1972 UIM World Championship
Madison’s Greatest Hydro-Race Disaster
Muncey Steers Atlas Van Lines Through Debris to Victory
MADISON, Ind. — (AP) — Officials sighed with relief yesterday when they finally got around to handing Bill Muncey the Indiana Governor’s Cup for his victory in the trouble-plagued and much-delayed Madison Regatta.
Muncey drove Atlas Van Lines I to victory in both his preliminary heats, then was declared the winner when the championship-final heat of the unlimited-hydroplane race was canceled.
The 1972 race was turned into one of the greatest disasters in this Southeastern Indiana community’s long history of running regattas. Frustrations and setbacks began June 23rd when the
Miss Madison, which is owned by the city, sank in the Detroit River during the running of the Gold Cup race. Later, the tropical storm Agnes filled the Ohio River with flood water and debris. The flooding first forced postponement of the race from Sunday until yesterday and qualifying was cut to one day and pushed back nearly a week.
Yesterday dawned gray and rainy, with debris still flowing downstream. The start of the first heat was delayed nearly 3½ hours before officials decided it was safe enough to go ahead. Later, after Muncey easily won two preliminary heats, race officials decided to cancel the championship heat because of increased debris in the river. Muncey, 44, of San Diego, Calif., was declared the winner of his fourth straight race and the 31st of his career.
Terry Sterett drove Miss Budweiser, the defending national champion, to a second-place finish. Tom Sheehy was third driving the Atlas Van Lines II, followed by Jim McCormick in Miss Timex and Seattle’s Bob Gilliam in Pizza Pete.
Muncey said, "It was bad water out there. I got nailed in the back chute once and I nearly lost the boat a couple of times."
Terry Sterett said, "The water looked better than it was from the shore. It kept changing from pretty good to bad to very bad. There was a lot of stuff out there ... some real big stuff. I saw a log about 8 to 10 feet long and a foot in diameter on the lower part of the course."
One driver, Bill Schumacher of Seattle, refused to drive, saying the river conditions were too dangerous. Another driver, Fred Alter, came in after his first time on the water, shook his head and said, "It’s rough, awfully rough. There is junk all over out there."
Regatta officials recruited more than 50 private boat-owners to take screens and anything else that was handy in an attempt to block the flow of logs, branches, barrels and other debris from coming downstream from the area of the Markland Dam and the Kentucky River. Bill Newton, referee, called for an extra dozen or so volunteer boats just before the start of the races because, "we’re just not getting enough of the debris."
Despite the efforts of the volunteers, it wasn’t good enough.
And, as if debris wasn’t enough trouble, the Coast Guard provided an added surprise. They announced that a river boat, Delta Queen, would have to pass through the course between the already long-delayed third and fourth heats. The paddle wheeler took nearly 20 minutes to clear the course, but it did manage to entertain an estimated 50,000 chilled race fans. The Delta Queen headed downstream with its giant calliope under a full head of steam.
When asked if he felt he could win every race this year, Muncey replied, "The balance of the season should be good for our boats, but I don’t like to forecast anything. If we had run the final heat here, we may have been forced to run second or third.
"I’m going for a national championship and we’ve got another race Sunday in Washington, D. C. ... We might have busted something going all out and not have been able to glue it back together in time."
Muncey wrapped up 800 points in winning here to run his season total to 4,700. Pride of Pay’n Pak did not place here, but stayed second in the national standings, with 3,725 points.
The Pay ‘n Pak was a major attraction here because of 51-year-old Bill Sterett, Sr. The elder Sterett won the national driving title in 1969, then retired from racing. Yesterday he came out of retirement to take over the helm of the Pay ‘n Pak from Schumacher. Sterett had starting trouble in his first heat before straightening out the problem to out-drive his son, Terry, and two other drivers to win Heat 2A.
Heat 1A — 1. Miss Budweiser, driver Terry Sterett, average speed 98.146 m.p.h. 2. Go Gale, Tom Sheehy; 3. Towne Club, Fred Alter. Pride of Pay ‘N Pak, Bill Sterett, did not start.
Heat 1B — 1. Atlas Van Lines, Bill Muncey, 101.867; 2. Pizza Pete, Bob Gilliam; 3. Miss Timex, Jim McCormick. Country Boy, Salt Walther, did not finish.
Heat 2A — 1. Pride of Pay ‘N Pak, 99.447; 2. Go Gale; 3. Miss Budweiser; 4. Pizza Pete.
Heat 2B — 1. Atlas Van Lines, 97.314; 2. Miss Timex. Towne Club and Country Boy did not start.
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, July 5, 1972)