Pressure Big Reason for Fatalities -- Muncey [1967]

(Bill Muncey has won more races and more heats, set more records and has been "on his head" as much as anybody in Gold Cup racing. Holder of the Brussel's World Medal for Sport, Muncey needs only one more Gold Cup victory to surpass Gar Wood's mark of four. He has lost five close friends and rivals in less than a year and his broken body has been pulled from three wrecks. Yet Muncey is tagged the man to beat in Sunday's World's Championship Race on the Detroit River. Muncey recalls both the happy and tragic past and looks into the future of Gold Cup racing with Free Press boating writer Joe Dowdall in this Sports Quiz.)

Q--Boat racing had only three deaths in 20 years. Now it has had five in less than a year. Has this or will this change your attitude toward racing?

A--Emotionally, I'm still disturbed. It has given me second thoughts about the sport. But in any professional sport there is no room for emotion. It makes you susceptible and vulnerable. You don't respond to a situation the way you should. You have to be a cold-turkey competitor.

Q--Are you a cold turkey?

A--In the boat and on the course, yes. On the beach, on the other hand, I'm very concerned.

Q--What are the reasons for the sudden rash of disasters?

A--There are a lot of things. There is the pressure of performance. If the owner represents a national firm where national exposure is all important, the team and the driver feel this intensely.

Q--Where does the pressure come from?

A--Everywhere. The owners, the crews and, my gosh, the fans. The fans are on you all the time to go out and win.

Q--What about the competition?

A--The pressure is as great there. The young drivers are you to make names for themselves. A successful driver can make a good living, but it is the opportunity which opens the doors to you in other business ventures which is far greater.

Q--How does this affect their racing?

A--I hate to be called a veteran. But these young chargers are pushing the veterans into areas of danger we know are not justified by the caliber of competition. Drivers are getting themselves into positions they know are wrong and are having to make more and more corrections.

Q--With the exception of Rex Manchester, the other drivers -- Chuck Thompson, Ron Musson, Don Wilson and Bill Brow -- killed were all veterans. Is this what happened to them?

A--Each accident has to be weighed individually. But generally, the reason why these things are happening-- I'm going to repeat it -- is nothing other than the pressure of performance.

Q--How did you get into Gold Cup powerboat racing?

A--I had been winning with my little 225 cubic inch class racer when Al Fallon asked me if I would like a chance to try to qualify his Miss Great Lakes for the 1950 Harmsworth Race.

Q--How did you do?

A--I had a real fast qualifying trial but all the other boats were being driven by experienced veteran drivers. I didn't make the Harmsworth but I did make the Silver Cup race.

Q--How did you make out?

A--I'll never forget it. I found myself driving up alongside my boyhood heroes, like Guy Lombardo, Chuck Thompson, Danny Foster and Bill Cantrell. I thought what in the world am I doing up here with these big men? I had passed Lombardo and was racing along side Cantrell in My Sweetie when the bottom pulled right out of Miss Great Lakes and she sank.

Q--You were a young charger then. Do you still drive the same charge and get the same thrill every time you race for a starting line?

A--A lot of water has passed under my stern since then. I'm 38 now, not 28. I learned a lot in the area of top competition. I'm certainly not charging like I did then. But I'm not making the mistakes I did then. I don't have to charge to get back in shape after I get myself out of attitude.

Q-- What about yourself? Do you still have goals in racing?

A--I want to win this year's Gold Cup race in Seattle badly. No one has wons it five times. I feel I have a fine boat, a great crew and perhaps the only owner, George Simon, who doesn't insist I win every race. I don't have the pressure other drivers do from their owners. Mr. Simon gives us everything we want and only asks we run a good, safe race.

Q--What do you think your chances are?

A--Good. Miss U.S. is set up for a course like Seattle's where you have two wide turns instead of Detroit's, where one turn is wide and the other is a V.

Q--What do you mean by set up?

A--Each crew has to change either the gear ratios or the propellers for each course. Tampa has a 2 1/2-mile course. Detroit and Seattle are three-mile courses, but the turns are entirely different. Each crew has to decide if they want to go for straightaway top speed or acceleration coming out of the corners. We turned 107.108 mph in Tampa on acceleration. In Detroit, a boat can get a 115 lap by hitting 160 on the long backstretch.

Q--The Detroit course is a problem with one sharp turn and the long straightaways?

A--It is for me. I've been driving here for 20 years and I don't think I have ever taken the upper turn at the Detroit Yacht Club well. So we go for more speed at the top end on the long stragihtaways. I've been the top qualifier a dozen times, but I don't feel I've ever taken that corner well.

Q--Then the setup is all important for a course?

A--Yes. Only look at what happened to me last year. After I ran a comfortable 115 in qualifying for the Gold Cup here, I barrel down toward the first turn on the first lap and there's a big roller waiting for me. I was thrown right out of my seat, the deck and stabilizer were split and luckily we both made it back to the pits. The boat was through for good.

Q--How many serious accidents have you had?

A--I've been on my head a number of times.

Q--How did your accidents happen?

A--I was driving my first Miss Thriftway at Madison, Ind., and the boat just disintegrated at 170 miles an hour. There wasn't any reason for it. It just came unglued. I fared better. I ruptured my kidneys and tore the wall of my stomach loose. My most spectacular accident, naturally, was when I sank the steel Coast Guard boat in the Gold Cup race in Seattle. The rudder tore off my Thriftway II. We had done everything we could to check that rudder, but it came off. My other serious accident was when I was testing Notre Dame. A fuel line worked loose without my knowing it. The bilge filled with gasoline and then wham. It burned to the water line. Luckily I got out.

Q--"Thrills" is hardly the word, but were these you're biggest thrills?

A--No. Winning the President's Cup races were. Being presented to the President of the United States is a rewarding experience beyond imagination. I was fortunate to have met President Eisenhower and President Kennedy . . . when they presented the trophies to me.

Q--Before you raced the Gold Cup boats, you had your own Chevy-powered limited and still drive limiteds for other owners. Do you think automobile engines like the ones in Chrysler Crew will catch up to the big Rolls Royce and Allison aircraft engines the other boats have?

A--I think Chrysler, Ford, Chevrolet and the rest have a tremendous future in powerboat racing. Bill Sterett was right behind me on my 108 mile-an-hour lap at Tampa and look at the 113 qualifying speed he has here.

Q--Do you think Sterett with his two Chrysler hemis will be one of the boats to beat in the World's Championship Race here Sunday?

A--Chrysler Crew will definitely be in there if his engines hold up. While our engines will be turning 3,500 to 4,000 rpms, Chrysler Crew's hemis will be screaming at 7,000 rpms. That's a lot to ask for 45 miles.

Q--Which are the boats to beat in Sunday's race?

A--I'll go with experience. Warner Gardner has Miss Lapeer running better than it ever did. Billy Schumacher has a background in racing. He's the brightest star in Gold Cup racing and his new Miss Bardahl is ready to go. Then there's Notre Dame and Jim Ranger's dependable My Gypsy.

(Reprinted from the Detroit Free Press, July 2, 1967)