1984 7-Eleven Freedom Cup

Race Belongs to Underdog Bud After Atlas Goes Thud

by Glenn Nelson, Times staff reporter

All season long. Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little has been angling for the underdog role. Now he seems to have it hooked.

Most of the estimated 200,000 who lined the shores of Lake Washington yesterday let loose with a giant roar of approval as the Atlas Van Lines expired after one ‘scintillating lap, opening the way for the Budweiser’s victory in the Freedom Cup’s winner-take-all final.

The crowd’s reaction was a poignant tribute to Little’s powers of persuasion.

Last week, after Chip Hanauer powered the Atlas Van Lines to a Gold Cup win in Pasco, Bud driver Jim Kropfeld said his boat “is on Medicaid.” And the beer crew also has hinted their five-year-old hull almost is eligible for Social Security.

Miss Budweiser once was the scourge of the unlimited circuit, winning 20 consecutive heats and five straight races on the way to a national title in 1980. Suddenly, it is the sport’s welfare boat. Now Bernie Little, one of the sport’s most prosperous owners, is looking for handouts.

Yesterday, the unlimited fleet showered the Beerwagon with the greatest outpouring of magnanimity since the Great Society days.

The charitable outburst started as early as rained-soaked Heat 1A.

At the start, Kropfeld, returning to a maneuver that made him a legend in the limited classes, ducked onto the course at the last moment and then crawled to the starting line to hold down the inside lane.

On the outside, Mickey Remund, noted for his on-the-money starts, gunned The Squire Shop across the line first. But he had jumped the gun.

All Kropfeld then had to do was stay in front of Hanauer and the Atlas, which trailed badly at the start. But the Atlas, having problems with throttle-response, was in no position to stage a challenge. Despite gasping to a halt twice, however, the Atlas amazingly gobbled up enough of the competition for a second-place finish.

Then, in Heat 2A, while Hanauer finally registered an easy win, Remund eliminated The Squire Shop, Budweiser’s nearest competitor in the national high-points race, from the final heat. As the other five hydros shot past the final shapeup buoy, Remund inexplicably veered the Squire back into the infield.

"I wasn't racing; they were,” he explained. “I realized, when I pulled to the center, that my stopwatch was broken. It showed I still had a minute, 15 seconds left. The minute hand was loose. Then, it was too late. I didn’t want to go back out within the race because, if the boats had to run over my big rollers, they’d be in trouble.”

After Kropfeld then made quick work of the other turbine boats — Tosti and Lite All-Star, the run for the money quickly shaped up to be another chapter in the heated decade-old Bud-Atlas rivalry.

It was to be the sleek, high-tech Atlas, powered by the turbine, the engine of the future, against the battered, old reliable Bud, sponsored by the beverage of the masses. Porsche vs. ’57 Chevy. Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker.

In the final, Kropfeld hit his third straight great start. But Hanauer whined the turbine to a course-record 133.928 mph first lap and looked as if he were going to score another one for the Empire. In the front straight, however, the Atlas’ propeller shattered, turning the boat’s shaft into a mangled mass of steel.

What Hanauer calls “our Achilles heel” — a propeller has cracked in almost every heat of competition under the intense stress generated by the Atlas’ turbine — rendered the superhumans to mere mortals once again.

Another member of the Star Wars fleet, Reynolds and the Tosti Asti, was all that was left for Kropfeld to master. The oil level in the Tosti’s gearbox was too low, however, and the resulting power loss relegated Reynolds to another bridesmaid finish.

“Second is better than third, but it still stinks,” said Reynolds. "The hardest part is to be in contention, having a lot of power, but not being able to use all that power. It’s frustrating because there hasn’t been a time all year when I couldn’t outrun any other boat in this sport.”

But Lake Washington had been a surly cesspool all afternoon and because of it, Budweiser wasn’t itself either. After a terrifying cruise in Heat 1A, the beer team added deeper air dams to help spoil the air for the flightly Bud. But that, in turn, cut the boat’s speed by 20 mph and made it sluggish in the turns.

It then became obvious the people’s choice had to change its tactics and produce a workmanlike victory.

“We have to work an iota nattier for our wins now,” said Little.

“For sure. Any time you’re up against a boat faster than you, it’s a different game,” conceded Kropfeld.

“I have to drive harder. I have to go into a race with the idea that: maybe the other boats will have a little problem or two. I either have to get out in first and rough up the water for them or sit back, pressure them and hope they break.”.

Though the Atlas broke, as the Budweiser team hoped it would, the boat’s builder and designer, Jim Lucero, was far from discouraged.

“When you break after being in front, after running on the outside, it still gives you a sense, of satisfaction,” Lucero said. ‘'The boat itself is running better than I had any right to expect it to. I think we probably have the fastest boat in the sport. No one can question that. Even Bernie Little has to admit that.”

Pistons vs. Turbines; Bud vs. Atlas — cased closed, right?

“No,” said Little, buoyed by victory and baring his soul. “We can’t run with them off the turns, but they can’t out-accelerate us in the straights. We’ve got reliability! What can I say?”

Little said enough. Just look who has a 1,789-point lead in the national high-points race and who registered his fourth victory in seven races so far this season.

Maybe the underdog has just been playing possum all along.

ROOSTER TALES: The Seafair Trophy consolation race provided, by far, the best racing action here in years. Three boats — The Squire Shop, American Speedy Printing and Lite All-Star — dueled, deck to deck, for five full laps. Squire, piloted by Mickey Remund, edged Speedy, with Milner Irvin standing in for an Injured Ron Snyder, by a nose. Lite All-Star, driven by Tom D’Eath, was a mere two boat lengths back.

(Reprinted from the Seattle Times, August 6, 1984)