1985 APBA Gold Cup

Pierce Not Surprised By Trip To Top

Hydro Driver Rides Cinderella Story To Lead In National Point Standings

In one corner of the cacophonous Columbia River pits last week, swarms of onlookers were studying the sleek Miss Budweiser and ogling 7-Eleven's slick pilot, Steve Reynolds.

In the opposite corner, a hoard of reporters was holding court with Miller American driver Chip Hanauer.

Smack in the middle of all this, right under everyone's noses, sat driver Scott Pierce, surrounded only by his Executone Telephones crew.

Going into Sunday's Gold Cup, Pierce is unlimited racing's national points leader. Yet, in a period of about half an hour, he was pestered by just one autograph hound and one lone reporter.

Scott Pierce has been under everyone's noses for years. This year, he is but one character, albeit a major one, in the Executone racing team's Cinderella story.

It is a story of a hungry, young crew, led by a tireless young crew chief named Danny Heye, looking to finally make its mark on the sport. It is a story of owner Bill Wurster, a former driver who made a career of wringing every drop of potential from underfinanced and aging equipment.

It is a story of maturation and ensuing success. It is Scott Pierce's story.

In 1981, Pierce was fired by an owner, Wurster, who was to rehire him four years later. Pierce had complained too long and too loud about being stuck with machinery beneath his obvious talents.

Wurster tired of the immature whining. The two parted on harsh terms.

As recently as five months ago, Pierce was nearly cold-shouldered out of the sport. He was a driver whose maniacal obsession for pressing pedal to metal was deemed too risky a characteristic.

But Scott Pierce, soon to be 30, finally grew up. "I might be the only guy in the world who grew up at 28 years old," he says. And it was his firing by Wurster in 1981 that Pierce considers to be the start of his plunge into adulthood.

"In the process of growing older and maturing, I learned other people are not concerned about my frustrations," Pierce says. "They had frustrations of their own. They didn't need mine."

"I couldn't ever say I let him go for the last time because of his driving ability," explains Wurster. "I felt I was doing him a favor by letting him go. It was my responsibility."

Intrigued, as always, by his driving potential, other camps gave Pierce other rides. In 1982, he drove the Gilmore Special, Oh boy! Oberto and the Budweiser Light. In 1983, he piloted Chuck Hickling's Tempus during the two Northwest races. Last year, he and Al Thoreson campaigned Fred Leland's U-40.

All those boats were either underfinanced or fast approaching obsolescence. Pierce drove them all faster than they had ever gone before. But he never won.

"If you took Chip Hanauer and put him in the boats I raced," Pierce reminds, "he wouldn't have won any races either."

Last year in Madison, Pierce's around-the-clock work on the U-40 began to affect him. "I began to make serious errors in set-up," he says.

After sleeping only six hours in the previous three nights, Pierce failed to detect a swell on the Madison course. He hooked his boat in a turn, was tossed from the hydro and badly injured.

It was not Pierce's first accident, but it was close to his last. Others may have taken the incident as a bad omen.

But Pierce had been hooked on unlimited racing at age 7, when he accompanied his father, the late hydro owner Laird Pierce, and Fred Alter to a regatta in Coeur d'Alene. In 1979, he had trekked from Los Angeles to Seattle with a beat-up Grand Prix boat, which he disintegrated during one of his first races in the Northwest.

At 18, Pierce had his own business, building jet skis. He held a myriad of other jobs. His mother talked of his becoming a lawyer.

But boat racing had become his life, his obsession. Each odd job, each endeavor, became merely a means to survive until the next race, or to finance a new boat.

"I never had as much motivation in academics, or anything else, as this," Pierce says.

The obsession eventually abated. While laid up in a Madison hospital, Pierce was promised the Executone job. Still, shortly afterward, Pierce was ready to walk away from the sport. He took a job as a salesman with Steve Woomer's Competition Specialties.

"I would've been miserable," Pierce says. "My reputation probably backfired on me. I never lost equipment. Other pedal-to-the-metal drivers littered the field with equipment. But I was just automatically thrown in with that group.

"People told me for years that I had all the potential in the world. But they weren't giving me an opportunity. I had no other options left."

But he did. Wurster made good on his bedside promise in March.

Now Pierce is not surprised by his sudden success. But neither is he patting himself on the back, as he may have done four years ago.

"Whenever I get too fancy pantsy, I just think back on my flip in the limiteds, my flip last year, my ride in the Gilmore Special, which was so sweet," Pierce said rolling his eyes. "But no matter how good it gets, we have to remember we've all come from a long ways back."

The Executone still lacks the finances of a Budweiser and the power plant of the 7-Eleven and Miller American. It would make it that much sweeter for this crew, which failed so long to earn their respect, and this driver, who had been under their noses so long, to clobber these high rollers in the national high-point race.

"The object now is to win the national championship, but only because earlier circumstances put us here," said Pierce, who earned his first-ever career victory in Miami this year. "We kind of earned our way into it. Usually, the national championship goes to the guys with the most money.

"If we win this thing, it will be like a fairy tale to us."

Most of all, it will be Scott Pierce's fairy tale.

(Reprinted from the Seattle Times, August 1, 1985)