1984 Budweiser Thunder-on-the-Ohio
When Kropfeld and Miss Bud meet, it’s like Thunder
By Gary Schultz, Courier-Journal Staff Writer
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Jim Kropfeld got reacquainted with Miss Budweiser yesterday and stormed off with a decisive victory in the $100,000 Thunder on the Ohio unlimited hydroplane race.
Kropfeld, a 43-year-old Cincinnati resident, had been relegated to the shore two weeks ago when a propeller broke and tore up the underside of Miss Budweiser during testing in Syracuse, N.Y.
Once repairs were completed and the boat was hauled from Seattle to Evansville, arriving at 5:30 Saturday morning, another big job began.
“They’d made so many changes that I had to learn how to handle it, all over again," Kropfeld said between sips of beer. "Today I just sort of edged myself up to top speed."
And the speeds he reached in the huge red-gold-and-white boat were more than enough to win the $18,000 first prize before a crowd estimated at 100,000.
With defending national champion Atlas Van Lines enduring an afternoon of problems, The Squire Shop turned out to be Miss Budweiser’s chief rival.
Driven by Mickey Remund, The Squire Shop won two elimination heats by wide margins while Miss Budweiser took first in one and struggled home second in another, plagued by what owner Bernie Little termed "a sick engine.”
Armed with a different engine in the winner-take-all final heat, Kropfeld survived a few uncomfortable moments on the opening lap and pushed out to a 3.6-second lead with a speed of 124.891 miles per hour to Remund’s 117.474 mph.
He added to his margin on the second lap with a clocking of 120.886 and was in front by 8.6 seconds —- about 850 yards — when Miss Budweiser finished the 12-mile race.
Later, Remund was apologetic.
“We found out just before the final heat that our propeller had a crack in it,” the 47-year-old Californian said. “That messed up the handling, and I had trouble holding my lane.”
Remund had The Squire Shop on the inside lane and Kropfeld was to his right as the boats went into the crucial first turn of the opening lap.
“When I turned it,” Remund said, "the boat just kind of slid over. Fortunately, Jim gave me plenty of room.”
Kropfeld said he had no problems making the adjustment.
“We had plenty of room," he said. “After all, I kind of knew what his boat was going to do after running side by side with it 30 to 40 times last season.”
Kropfeld said he felt pressured most of the way in his sixth career victory.
“Mickey kept the heat on me,” he said. "If we’d had any gremlins, the result might have been different. The final heat was the first one where I really had to push it, and I just kept hoping the engine wouldn’t give out.”
Miss Budweiser’s average speed for the race was 118.975 mph. The Squire Shop averaged 116.118 and Miss Renault, driven by Milner Irvin, took third — 21 ft seconds behind the winner — at 112.300.
Executone placed fourth in the six-boat final with a speed of 100.360. American Speedy Printing, formerly known as Miss Madison, conked out on the second lap and failed to finish.
Driver Chip Hanauer watched the final heat from the Atlas Van Lines pit area, a vantage point to which he’s unaccustomed.
The new Atlas, powered by a turbine engine instead of the conventional World War II aircraft engine, was making its first start of the season in Evansville, the third of 10 races on the circuit.
But the boat spent very little time in the water. Hanauer couldn’t get it started for Heat 1B and then came to shore before completing the first lap of Heat 2A.
Consequently, the Atlas was shut out and failed to qualify for the final heat.
"We knew it was going to take time,” Hanauer said. “Everybody was saying ‘ban the turbines’ after we did a 140 lap in qualifying, but it really didn’t excite us that much.
“We’re on a learning curve until we get everything solved. I’d say we won’t be competitive until we reach the West Coast (the sixth race on July 29).”
Hanauer did manage to keep the Atlas running for all six laps of a consolation race, averaging 126.138 on the first lap and 117.796 for the heat.
“It’s the first heat that the boat has finished, so I guess that’s something," said Hanauer, who celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday.
Another turbine boat that ran into problems was Miss Tosti Asti. Returning to the pits after a morning test run, the hydro was severely damaged when the propeller broke.
“I’d say we're looking at $25,000 to $30,000 in damages,” driver Steve Reynolds said.
It could have been worse.
"If I’d been going down the straightaway at 140 miles an hour, the boat would have been a total loss. It would have flipped or barrel-rolled and I would have been seriously injured.”
As it is, Miss Tosti Asti, the second-fastest qualifier for the Evansville race, will miss Sunday’s Indiana Governor’s Cup race at Madison, Ind.
Despite the second-place finish. The Squire Shop moved to the top of the national-championship standings with 2,869 points. American Speedy Printing (2,350) dropped to second, while Miss Budweiser (2.300) climbed to third.
(Reprinted from the Louisville Courier-Journal, July 2, 1984)