The Sterett Legacy
In over a hundred years of organized power boat racing, many dynasties have flourished.
Prior to World War II, the Gar Wood family and the Horace Dodge family helped to define the state of the art in the water sport of kings.
In more recent decades, there have been the Schoeniths, the Schafers, Dossins, the D'Eaths, and the Webers, among others.
In the 1960s and 1970s, members of the Sterett family of Owensboro, Kentucky, made their competitive presence felt in Unlimited hydroplane racing.
The father, Bill Sterett, Sr., started the ball rolling in 1966 with Miss Chrysler Crew. His sons, Billy, Jr., and Terry Sterett, joined the sport four years later.
The story begins four decades ago when Bill Sterett, Sr., was attending a Limited hydroplane race and learned that the 7-Litre Class winner was available for sale. Sterett wrote the owner a check and towed the boat home from the race site.
When Bill pulled into his driveway, his wife called out, "What in the world is that crazy thing?" So, Sterett named his new acquisition Miss Crazy Thing.
Bill, Sr., quickly established himself as a competitive presence on the tough Mid-West Limited inboard circuit. By 1965, he was the 7- Litre Class National and High Point Champion.
That same year, at the Unlimited race in Detroit, Bill talked his way into test driving Jack Schafer's Such Crust IV, a huge elephantine craft, powered by twin Allison aircraft engines. The test run was a fiasco. The big lumbering Crust was too poorly designed to reach competitive speeds.
"Shucks!" spat Sterett. "I can build a boat in my backyard that can go faster than that!"
For the record, Bill did just that. The following winter, he and brother-in-law Jim Hay constructed an Unlimited hydroplane of their own, an enlarged hull duplicate of Miss Crazy Thing, from a Henry Lauterbach design. Power was by a pair of 426 cubic inch supercharged Chrysler hemis.
Miss Chrysler Crew was the first serious attempt at automotive power in the Unlimited Class and the only one to ever win a race.
Bill finished third in the Sacramento Cup on Lake Folsom with the C-Crew in 1966 and captured the UIM World Championship in 1967 on the Detroit River, the very same body of water where Sterett had failed two years earlier with Such Crust IV.
The river was extremely rough that day in 1967. It's been said that Sterett was the only driver with the guts to drive that fast under those conditions.
When the Chrysler Corporation changed promotional direction, Bill Sterett, Sr., signed on as driver of Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser. He piloted the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Bud to victory in the 1968 Arizona Governor's Cup at Phoenix and went on to capture the National High Point Championship in 1969, based upon four victories in seven races.
Miss Budweiser was an Ed Karelsen-designed hull and a virtual clone of the 1967-68 National Champion Miss Bardahl. The Budweiser and the Bardahl had many memorable duels over the years.
A special highlight for Sterett in 1969 was in winning the Kentucky Governor's Cup in front of the hometown Owensboro crowd. The other memorable moment was in capturing the APBA Gold Cup--the Holy Grail of power boating--on San Diego's Mission Bay.
Bill then decided to retire from competition and concentrate on his Owensboro-based construction business. For a few years, he assisted the Unlimited officiating team in the capacity of Drivers' Representative.
But the story doesn't end there.
Billy, Jr., and Terry Sterett had racing plans of their own. The brothers--fresh out of college--had competed in go-carts and 280 Cubic Inch Class Limited hydroplanes for a number of years. They were ripe for a shot at the big time.
Using their Dad's retired Miss Chrysler Crew (now renamed Miss Owensboro) and using an Allison engine, borrowed from My Gypsy, Billy and Terry headed out on the 1970 Unlimited tour.
At season's end, Miss Owensboro had achieved fourth place in National High Points, behind Miss Budweiser, Notre Dame, and Myr Sheet Metal. And the Sterett brothers were Co-Rookies of the Year.
Billy and Terry didn't achieve the level of success in the sport as their father. But they were always in the hunt.
Billy survived a devastating crash at Seattle in 1971 with Notre Dame but bounced back convincingly the following year with Dave Heerensperger's Pride of Pay ‘N Pak. He battled side-by-side with Bill Muncey and Atlas Van Lines to win the President's Cup in Washington, D.C.
Muncey had really been on a roll in 1972. He and Atlas won six out of seven races that year. His "perfect season" was spoiled on the Potomac River by Billy Sterett, Jr.
Billy was also the first to post a qualification lap of over 125 miles per hour on a 3-mile course at Seattle in 1972 with Pride of Pay ‘N Pak.
Terry Sterett drove a sensational race with Atlas Van Lines II at the 1971 Gold Cup in Madison, Indiana, when he finished second to Jim McCormick--his Owensboro neighbor--in the community-owned Miss Madison.
The following year, Terry was promoted to the Miss Budweiser, the very same "Beer Wagon" that Bill Sterett, Sr., had driven in 1968-69.
By the time Terry was hired to drive this particular Bud, the hull had seen its better days and the design was somewhat obsolete. But Terry nevertheless kept her in the thick of things. He finished runner-up to Bill Muncey in 1972 National Driver Points. Moreover, Terry took second-place in both the World Championship Race at Madison and the Tri-Cities Atomic Cup at Kennewick, Washington.
On a human-interest level, Terry Sterett is the only driver in the post-World War II era to ever race against his father in a heat of Unlimited competition. This occurred in Heat 2-A of the 1972 Madison Regatta. Bill, Sr., was filling in as relief driver for Pride of Pay ‘N Pak, while Terry handled Miss Budweiser. Father and son battled head-to-head for several laps before Bill pulled away for the win.
After seven excitement-packed seasons of hydroplane action, the Steretts--all three of them--waved goodbye to Unlimited racing after 1972. They never competed again but rather returned to the family business in Owensboro that occupied them for the rest of their lives.
For many years, the Sterett Crane Service assisted the "Thunder on The Ohio" committee at Evansville, Indiana, in the launching and retrieving of the Unlimiteds.
Bill, Billy, Jr., and Terry are no longer with us. But their spine-tingling exploits in the sport that they loved will always be remembered for as long as men race boats.