1982 Circus Circus Thunderboat Regatta

A Hanauer Victory Furthers Winning Tradition of 'Atlas'

By Steve Dolan, Times Staff Writer

San Diego—Shortly after Bill Muncey was killed in a hydroplane accident last October, his wife, Fran, surveyed their garage.

It was full of the equipment that Bill had used while driving the Atlas Van Lines. Everyone, including Fran Muncey, figured she would sell the equipment.

"I thought it was all over for racing," she said. "Then all of a sudden, everything took on a purpose. I realized what Bill would have wanted. I had to do it for Bill."

What she did was make a proposal to Atlas Van Lines last November. As the acting president of Bill Muncey Industries, Inc., Fran decided the equipment should be used to build another Atlas Van Lines.

She also volunteered to stay on as an accountant, and has traveled with the racing team this year.

"I got a call from her last November about midnight when she said she wanted to continue," recalled Terri Lucero, the Atlas' media coordinator. "I thought she was about two bricks short of a full load. We all tried to talk her out of it. We just couldn't do it."

The decision was made—Atlas Van Lines would race again in 1983. However, at the urging of Fran Muncey, the Atlas' board of directors decided to race again this year.

Sunday, Chip Hanauer drove the boat to the championship of the Circus-Circus Thunderboat Regatta on Mission Bay. It all but clinched the season championship for the boat.

After Fran Muncey had helped decide the boat would run in 1982, a big decision remained. A driver needed to be named, and three others were interviewed before Hanauer was chosen.

All along, Fran Muncey had wanted Hanauer to drive. She remembered how her husband had considered Hanauer his protege. The two always critiqued races together and Bill Muncey often took Hanauer along when he appeared on a talk show in Seattle.

"Chip was Bill's favorite person," Fran Muncey said. "Both started racing when they were 8 or 9 years old and were really dedicated. A lot of men get in at an older age because of their egos, but they haven't paid the price. Bill and Chip are purists. They both think about techniques—not just winning."

Bill Muncey, winner of eight Gold Cups and seven national championships, was the top hydroplane driver ever. Some even thought he was the sport, according to Fran Muncey.

Hanauer, 28, has long been considered the top up-and-coming driver.

After the death of Muncey, Hanauer had an important choice to make. He had been driving the Squire Shop before being interviewed to drive Atlas Van Lines.

"It was like being asked to catch for the New York Yankees," Hanauer said. "The Atlas Van Lines is the winningest in hydroplane racing. You don't turn down opportunities like that."

Still, there was one question on the minds of many: Could Hanauer take over where Muncey had left off?

"People always asked me if I would be the next Bill Muncey," Hanauer said. "I told them, 'No, I am going to be the first Chip Hanauer.' I go about it in my own way. I can't be Bill."

Hanuaer has indeed picked up where Muncey was. Unless something unforeseen happens to his boat, Hanauer will win the national championship by putting his boat in the water in two weeks at Houston.

After the past weekend, he will take nothing for granted. His boat was unable to finish one of its two heat races Sunday because of a blown super charger. But his top competition, the Miss Budweiser, was not even able to race in the finals because it blew an engine.

The Miss Budweiser had been losing oil pressure during Saturday's qualifying. With a helping hand from the Atlas Van Lines crew —of all people—it was repaired before Sunday. However, the boat was unable to make it through even a qualifying heat.

"Everytime a decision needs to be made, we do what we think is right like Bill (Muncey) would have," Fran Muncey said. "Jim Lucero, our designer, wondered whether we should have helped the Miss Budweiser. Even though they probably wouldn't have done it for us, I told him to do it. If you do the right thing, something good will happen."

Something good did happen in the finals.

"It is like Bill's spirit is helping us," Fran Muncey said. "The other day, it was pouring down rain before the memorial ceremonies for Bill. Chip and I both thought that if Bill had anything to do with it, the sun would come out."

Two hours before the memorial, the sun appeared.

(Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1982)