1990 Budweiser Las Vegas Silver Cup

1990 Silver Cup

By Greg Bortolin

A come-from-behind season-ending championship by Circus Circus' Chip Hanauer over Miss Budweiser's Tom D'Eath on Sunday at Lake Mead sparked a longtime feud between the two top drivers in the sport of unlimited hydroplanes.

Hanauer took the lead for good in the season points race when D'Eath's Miss Budweiser was disqualified for making an illegal lane change on the first turn of the third heat at the Budweiser Las Vegas Silver Cup.

Hanauer's victory became official when D'Eath was penalized for starting early in the championship heat. D'Eath lost radio contact with his crew and went by his watch.

Hanauer and Miss Circus Circus, who finished with 13,652 points on the season, are the new driver and boat champions. D'Eath and Miss Budweiser, who entered Sunday 173 points ahead, finished second with 13,152. Hanauer repeated as the driver champion, but Miss Budweiser had won the boat championship the past four seasons.

What is clear is that D'Eath was leading around the first turn on the inside lane. Hanauer got caught in D'Eath's roostertail and was tossed several feet.

"He tried to kill Chip out there," said Dave Villwock, Miss Circus Circus crew chief. "The same thing happened to me when I raced against him in a Governor's Cup race in '85. It was definitely deliberate. He'll do anything to win and out there he tried to tip Chip over. When you cut in front of someone like that the lake becomes a roostertail. You can get someone killed that way."

Minutes after D'Eath was back on shore, Hanauer's father, Stan, stormed over to the Miss Budweiser pit area and yelled for D'Eath to come out of his diesel semi-truck.

"Normally, I'm not very vocal, but this is a democracy and I've seen (D'Eath) do this time after time after time after time," Stan Hanauer said. "You don't win at all costs with lives at stake. You win by the rule book. His antics cost him the race and, frankly, I don't know how (Miss Budweiser owner) Bernie Little can have a driver like that pulling those antics."

D'Eath came out and met Hanauer's father and asked him if had a problem. But, before there was a chance for an ugly scene, Little put his arm around Hanauer and led him away.

"I was up in the air 10 to 15 feet," a shaken Chip Hanauer said shortly after the heat race. "All I know is I was way up in the air and I landed on my left side. I knew (D'Eath) did something dangerous and unethical. I was darn near upside down.

"I'm not in the man's head, all I know is most of the guys I've driven against for years and years would never have done that."

Little, who backed D'Eath, said his driver did nothing deliberate, but would not comment on the referee's disqualification directly.

"The (ESPN) film showed that he was kissing buoys all the way around," said Little, who spent $3 million each of the last two seasons on Miss Budweiser. "I just couldn't beat all the calls today."

Chief referee Mike Noonan, who made the call along with Paul McKee in a helicopter, said that Miss Budweiser was on the inside going into the first turn. At the open of the first turn, Budweiser slid toward Circus Circus and failed to maintain the required 10-foot distance between boats.

As both boats approached the exit (last of five) buoy on the first turn with Budweiser on the inside and slightly ahead, Budweiser veered right and into the Circus Circus lane. At that point, Budweiser was in the lane designated one and Circus Circus was in the lane designated two and a half.

Deliberate or not, Noonan said Budweiser veered from lane one into lane two and a half. He said a boat must maintain its lane going around a corner. Circus Circus flew into Budweiser's roostertail.

D'Eath, who changed into a Dale Earnhardt T-shirt with a Richard Petty-style feather hat and posed for pictures with his crew and fans, said it was impossible to beat Circus Circus in its hometown.

Afterward, D'Eath denied breaking any rules or driving dangerously. He said he shouldn't have been disqualified in the third heat race and didn't jump the gun in the final.

"I don't drive (dangerously)," D'Eath said calmly. "I have never deliberately driven in a way to hurt anyone in my life. All I have to say is consider the source.

"Nobody passed us all day long, but I guess you can't beat the officials. I'll have no problem looking at myself in the mirror in the morning because I didn't do anything wrong."

D'Eath said he was used to being painted as the bad guy by Hanauer and his crew -- fan favorites in unlimited hydroplane racing. D'Eath also said he has had problems with Noonan's officiating.

"I know deep in my heart that the officials took 600 points away from me here and in Milwaukee," D'Eath said. "Hanauer certainly didn't win the championship out on the race course."

In the controversial third heat, D'Eath maintained that he hugged the buoys and that Hanauer got himself into trouble by squeezing Miss Budweiser.

"The same thing happened between us a couple of years back at Pasco, Washington, when I was in Squire Shop and he was racing Miller American," D'Eath said. "He ran into me and the same official said it was OK. I didn't put a drop of water on him today. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on. I'm just not getting a fair shake, but I just have to get used to it."

Ron Larsen, a veteran driver who was the turn judge on the lake, backed D'Eath.

"What I saw was two drivers going for the national points championship," Larsen said. "Chip was driving his boat to the limit and Tom was also driving to the limit. It's basically a judgment call. The way I saw it was Chip was running as close as he could to Tom. What Tom did around the corner was to try to miss the last exit pin (corner buoy), so he wouldn't slide into Chip. I felt it was legal, but I was overruled."

And D'Eath maintained that he nipped every buoy going around the first corner.

"I'm the one who is restricted in the inside lane and can't go anywhere," D'Eath said. "I saw the race on film from three different angles.

"My opinion coming into the race anyway was there was no way I was going to win this race, no matter what."

(Reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 24, 1990)