The Mike Hanson Story
Nicknamed the "Boat Doctor," Michael D. Hanson is one of hydroplane racing's most versatile participants. He builds them and has driven them.
In 1984, he piloted Dick Neeson's Madame Blue to a National High Point Championship in the 2.5-Litre Modified Inboard Class.
Hanson qualified as an Unlimited driver at the 1986 Tri-Cities (Washington) Columbia Cup with Fred Leland's U-100, an unsponsored craft with the generic name "BOAT" painted on it.
For ten years, between 1988 and 1998, he served as helmsman for the community-owned Miss Madison entry from southern Indiana. In 1999, Mike began his association with the U-9 racing team of Mike and Lori Jones.
Hanson's 1988 season can only be described as bizarre.
At the 1988 Gold Cup in Evansville, Indiana, while driving Sutphen Spirit, Mike had a couple of interesting duels with Miss Circus Circus driver John Prevost. (Hanson had built a boat for Prevost a couple of years earlier.)
Mike and John see-sawed for the lead for the entire six laps in Heat 1-B. Heading into the final turn, they were still head-to-head. Prevost then inexplicably found himself inside the buoy line and had to slow down. Hanson beat him to the checkered flag, 125.350 miles per hour to 124.501.
In Heat 2-A, Circus and Sutphen were challenging George Woods and Oh Boy! Oberto for the lead on lap-three. Prevost slid through Woods’ roostertail and into the path of Hanson. There was a frightful collision with Sutphen Spirit climbing the transom of Miss Circus Circus, caving in the engine cowl, ripping off the wing assembly, and flattening the turbine exhaust pipe. The Sutphen slid off the Circus and continued on in the race behind Oberto, while Circus slid to a stop.
When the Sutphen Spirit team disbanded in mid-season, following a crash at Syracuse, New York, Mike became available for the Miss Madison assignment. In his first appearance with the U-6 team, Hanson had another "close encounter" with John Prevost.
While returning to the pits after one of the heats of the 1988 Seattle Seafair Regatta, the Miss M was run over by Prevost and Miss Circus Circus. John had apparently gotten disoriented and drove right on top of the Madison, doing $50,000 damage. Fortunately, neither Prevost (who retired from racing shortly thereafter) nor Hanson was injured.
One of Mike's best seasons was 1993 when he and Miss Madison (sponsored by Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes) finished second in National High Points and first in the Star Mart Cup on San Diego's Mission Bay.
The 1993 San Diego race would prove to be Hanson's most unusual win.
The team was having a miserable day. Mechanical difficulties plagued Mike who was unable to score points in any of the preliminary heats.
Miss Madison advanced to the Final Heat on the basis of having finished first in the Last Chance Heat. This entitled Hanson to start from the "trailer boat" position, outside and well behind the other finalists.
The trailer-boat spot is the worst position on the race course. Never in the history of Unlimited racing had any boat won from the trailer-boat position. But that's exactly what happened at San Diego in 1993.
Mike worked his way up through the field, through the battering wakes of the other boats. He passed one entry and then another...and another...and another. After five laps, Miss Madison was in the lead, taking the checkered flag.
"I felt we had no chance to win," proclaimed a jubilant Hanson, "but I proved myself wrong." Mike has three other victories in the Unlimited Class: the 1994 Texas Hydrofest at Lewisville with Miss Budweiser, the 2001 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit with Tubby’s Grilled Submarines, and the 2002 Bill Muncey Cup at San Diego with Sun Harbor Mortgage.
The stint with Miss Budweiser was a last-minute deal. While on leave from the temporarily inactive Miss Madison, Hanson was hired as relief driver of the Bud, following an injury accident to Chip Hanauer at Detroit.
The Miss Budweiser team was battling to retain its National High Point Championship and needed every point that was available. Mike's performance in the "Beer Wagon" earned him the undying respect of Hanauer.
According to Chip, "Even though he wasn't in the boat as much as I was during the season, Mike was just as responsible for winning the championship as I was. Because we needed every single one of those points that he earned.
"We didn't know it at the time, but if he had finished second in even one of those four heats that he won at Lewisville, we wouldn't be National Champion.
"Mike was in the worst possible set of circumstances--in a boat that he was unfamiliar with, and which was horribly damaged. He performed flawlessly."
Hanson's victory in the 2001 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit with the U-9 was one of history's most popular Gold Cup outcomes. That was the year when the winning Jones Racing Team lost their skid fin and suffered major structural damage the week before at Madison, Indiana. So extensive was the damage to the U-9 hull that the team's appearance at the Gold Cup seemed unlikely.
But instead of heading for home and missing the most important race of the year, Mike Hanson--a boat builder by profession--sparked a round-the-clock repair effort. For several days, Mike and his crew hardly slept at all. But when the starting gun fired at Detroit, the U-9 was ready to race. And what a race it was!
Sponsored locally by Tubby’s Grilled Submarines, the Jones Racing Team posted a DNF, two firsts, and a second in the preliminary action and earned a spot in the Final Heat.
As the six finalists took to the water for the championship heat, the chances for a Tubby’s victory appeared remote. Miss Budweiser (Turbine-5) had scored the most points in the preliminaries and had defeated Tubby’s by five seconds in Heat 4-A.
For the Final, Budweiser had lane-one; Tubby's was assigned lane-two. As the field rounded the hairpin “Roostertail Turn” prior to the start, Miss Budweiser--the defending Gold Cup champion--encountered a roller and swapped ends.
When the rest of the field thundered past the Gar Wood Judges Stand and over the starting line, Miss Bud was sitting dead in the water with driver Dave Villwock frantically trying to re-start. He did. But by then, pursuit was out of the question.
Hanson and Tubby’s Grilled Submarines exited the first turn and pulled away to a decisive lead. The U-9, which few had expected to even be there after the problem at Madison, was on its way to the bank.
Tubby's averaged 140.022 for the 12-1/2-mile distance. Greg Hopp, driving Znetix, took second at 137.605, ahead of Steve David in Oh Boy! Oberto, Mark Weber in Miss DYC, a fast-closing Miss Budweiser, and Terry Troxell in Znetix II.
It was "Mike Hanson Day" on the Detroit River!
Hanson had seriously considered retirement from racing after the 2000 season, following the death of his friend George Stratton at San Diego. But Mike decided to continue in the cockpit a while longer.
The 2002 Bill Muncey Cup that Hanson won at San Diego was destined to be something out of the ordinary. For the first time in many years, the turbine-powered Unlimited fleet was being seriously challenged by an Allison-powered "piston-packer." This was Ed Cooper's U-3 racing team from Evansville that was shaping up as a major factor after years of "also-ran" status.
Sponsored by Vacationville.com and driven by Mitch Evans, the U-3 led out of the first turn in the Final Heat with Mike Hanson and Sun Harbor Mortgage (U-9) in close pursuit, as the San Diego crowd went wild.
Evans stayed ahead for two laps before Hanson finally overtook him. Nate Brown in Miss E-Lam Plus (U-16), running third, worked past the U-3 on lap-four. And that's how they finished: Hanson, Brown, and Evans in that order. It was the kind of race that brings crowds back. In 2003, his final year of competition, Hanson guided the U-9 to second-place in National High Points. He finished second at Evansville with Miss WABX, third at Madison with Miss Bello's Pizza, and third at Detroit with Al Deeby Dodge.
A call from Mike's old friend Bob Hughes, President of Miss Madison, Inc., led to Mike's return to the U-6 camp in 2004 as crew chief. The Miss Madison team, sponsored by Oh Boy! Oberto, certainly benefited from Hanson's participation.
In 2005 and 2006, Mike was largely responsible for the Miss M's mechanical success. The team finished second both years in National High Points and driver Steve David won the High Point Driver title both years. In 2007, Hanson co-designed (with Dale Van Wieringen and Ron Jones, Jr.) a new state-of-the-art U-6 hull for the City of Madison.
Working alongside Mike is his brother, Larry Hanson, who is the Miss Madison's turbine engine specialist.
According to Hughes, "I can't say enough for Mike and Larry. As a former driver, no one knows the inner workings of a race team better than Mike. He is the perfect communicator over the radio with the driver when a race is in progress."