1969 UIM World's Championship
By Joe Dowdall
Just as in "Never On Sunday," the Sabbath is the day everyone goes down to the seashore and has a happy time. Like last Sunday when more than 100,000 boat racing enthusiasts jammed the Detroit River shoreline to watch the World Championship race.
Everyone had a real happy time, especially winning driver Bill Muncey and boat owner George Simon. They went home happy. So did the fans who saw thrilling heat duels between Miss U.S., Dean Chenoweth in Myr's Special, Freddie Alter in Miss Schweppes and Bill Sterett in Miss Budweiser.
It was a real show, complete with all the backstage manipulations of master puppeteers.
In all the traditions of true showmanship, the "show" went on. Not by script, though, in this case the rule book.
The running of the World Championship race last Sunday must have at least tied the world record for rule bending. It made a shambles of the rule book right from the opening gun down to the last.
Referee Bill Newton threw the red flare to stop the race as soon as Ed O'Halloran in My Cupiee and Mike Wolfbauer in Savair's Probe crossed the starting line for the first heat when the starting clock showed go.
Myr's Special, owned by unlimited racing commissioner Lee Schoenith, was a mile back coming down the backstretch when the clock indicated the start.
"The clock was fast," explained Newton for his stoppage of the race.
American Power Boat Association rules call for "the referee to determine that the starting clock is functioning properly prior to the start of the first racing event."
Another rule states "the official start shall be the exact instant when the hand of the starting clock indicates the final minute has elapsed and the referee and other officials must use the clock rather than either flag or gun in determining disqualifications, etc."
In the restart of the heat, Savair's Probe flipped on the first turn and Tommy Fults' Pay 'n Pak limped in with a sick engine.
That left only Myr's Special and Miss Cupiee to restart the restart.
But, when My Cupiee was hauled out of the water after Probe's accident, the safety inspectors found its right sponson was loose, some bolts being drawn right through the surface because of dry rot. The dry rot also loosened the deck.
My Cupiee was entered by race chairman Jack Love.
An APBA rule says "no boat shall be allowed to start an event, a heat or section until said (safety) form is approved by the inspector and signed by the referee."
Another rule states that there can not be more than a two-boat difference in the number of starters in each heat. The other two heats started four boats. Without My Cupiee, Myr's would have been the lone starter -- a difference of three boats -- and all the boats would have been involved in a redraw.
My Cupiee was allowed to start the heat with Myr's Special. It fell back before the first turn and pulled into the infield as it completed its first lap.
"We had to have the boat to make a show," Newton said. "So we told O'Halloran to take the start, stay out of the way and make one lap and leave the course."
Schoenith's Myr's Special got the checkered flag at the end of the third lap as many of the spectators began heading for their cars, tiring of the one-boat race.
In between the aborted attempts to run the first heat, the race officials compensated for their "quick" flares at the start of the first heat with "slow" flares on Miss Budweiser's spinout which threw Sterett into the water.
Sterett was thrown from his boat in the upper turn of the third lap of the five-lap heat 1B as he attempted to pass Miss Schweppes, another Schoenith-owned boat.
Sterett was in the water while Miss Schweppes went another half-mile to the finish line to complete the necessary third lap. Then the flares went off and Miss Schweppes was declared the winner.
The APBA rule?
"The race, heat or section shall be immediately stopped when a driver enters the water."
And another -- "Should a race be stopped, it will be considered a completed event if at least half the number of laps required to finish a scheduled event have been completed."
Another rule calls for a heat to be restarted if less than half the required number of laps have been completed. Only two of the five laps had been completed when Sterett entered the water.
But Miss Budweiser got its turn, too, before the day was over. Bernie Little's boat joined the five legal boats on the course for the start of the final heat.
"We let Miss Budweiser run out there because it is the backup boat," Schoenith said.
"The driver of the alternate boat in the final heat may start his boat's engine and enter the race course if all boats eligible for the final heat are not on the course and running at the five-minute gun."
Which made Muncey and Simon twice as happy.
They won on the course and they beat the politics on shore, too.
In the aftermath of the race, Jim McCormick, who had purchased My Cupiee and leased the boat to Love just prior to the race, has threatened to sue the Buffalo owners of the boat to get his money back.
"I bought the boat on the assumption that it was fit and ready to run," McCormick said. "The dry rot wasn't discovered until O'Halloran ran the boat. I would have never driven the boat or allowed anyone else to drive it."
Without My Cupiee in the race, there would have been two five-boat elimination heats rather than the ridiculous four-four-and-one fields.
The World Championship field was one of the best balanced in history. With the lone super-boat Miss Bardahl retired, Miss U.S., Miss Budweiser, Myr's Special, Miss Schweppes and Notre Dame are all capable of winning.
The other owners, drivers and their crews are doing all they can for the sport of unlimited powerboat racing. The size of the crowd showed that Detroit still has visions of again being the Boat Racing Capital of the World.
They deserve the "race" they hope to see, not a "show."
(Reprinted from the Detroit News, Saturday, July 5, 1969)