Billy Schumacher, the brash baker boy from Seattle, is earning a reputation as the brightest thing to hit the unlimited hydroplane racing scene since Mira Slovak defected from Communist Czechoslovakia a decade ago.
Schumacher enhanced that reputation here Sunday when he streaked to three straight heat victories and walked off with the second running of the Atomic Cup unlimited hydro regatta.
Crowds estimated at 80,000 by Tri-City Water Follies officials watched Bardahl out-duel Bill Sterett in Miss Chrysler Crew and Jim McCormick in Wayfarer's Club Lady for the $5,000 first-place prize money.
The victory pushed Schumacher and Bardahl into the lead in national point standings in the American Power Boat Association. Schumacher, who has won three of four races on the 1967 circuit, has 3,625 points to runner-up Jim Ranger's 3,083. Sterett now is third with 2,852 and McCormick has 2,688.
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The crowd record - 20,000 more than last year's inaugural turnout - wasn't the only record established in yesterday's seven-heat program.
Schumacher's 45-mile average for three heats - 101.234 mph -was a new record, eclipsing Budweiser's 1966 mark by almost five miles per hour. Bill Muncey in Miss U.S., which blew an engine in the second heat and failed to run again, reeled off an engine in the second heat and failed to run again, reeled off an opening lap of 110.024 in Heat 1-C for another impressive record and Wayfarer's Club Lady, en route to an upset win over the Chrysler boat in Heat 1-C, set a heat record of 105.386 mph.
Despite his impressive clockings, it wasn't an easy victory for Schumacher.
His windshield became dislodged on his second go-round when it was struck by a roostertail. The shield struck Schumacher under the eye and raised a welt, but he was able to continue and the Bardahl crew found a replacement windshield.
Then, prior to the final heat, the Bardahl engine caught fire on the trailer in the pits, burning a crew member on the arm, but causing no major problems.
After taking care of the "little" problems, the only thing remaining for Schumacher and the Bardahl was to stave off the bids of a pair of talented Kentuckians -Sterett and McCormick, both of whom hail from Owensboro, a city of 45,000 situated between Louisville and Evansville on the Ohio River.
That was the major challenge offered to Schumacher - and the young Seattle driver met the challenge like an old pro ... like a Slovak or a Muncey would have met it.
Bardahl went into the final heat with 800 points after winning its first two heats, but still needing a first place finish to assure overall victory. Chrysler and Wayfarer's each had 700 points after the first two heats, but a win by either in the final heat would have produced victory over Bardahl on the basis of elapsed time, since their earlier victories had been faster.
Sterett's brilliantly timed start in the final heat sent him streaking across the starting line in first place ahead of Bardahl and Wayfarer's Club Lady in what figured to be a three-boat race. But Wayfarer couldn't maintain its earlier pace and quickly dropped out of serious contention.
Sterett kept Schumacher dodging his roostertails for the first two laps.
Then Schumacher made his move, a move that proved to be worth $5,000.
Sterett's lead had ranged from 50 to 100 yards through the first two laps, but Bardahl closed the gap at the start of the third lap. Sterett passed malfunctioning Miss Budweiser in the lower turn and Bardahl followed suit.
Then, charging into the top side of the lower turn, Schumacher forced Sterett inside, and came out ahead going into the backstretch, Sterett, almost washed down, slowed momentarily and then started his futile game of catch-up.
It was a classic example of the old story about getting "cut off at the pass."
It was the sort of gamble that is highly dangerous, but it paid off for Schumacher. Sterett battled gamely in Chrysler Crew, but never got close enough to make a serious victory bid in the final 3 1/2 laps. The daring maneuver when he forced Sterett inside helped Schumacher to his fastest lap of the day - 109.489 mph.
Up until Schumacher's dramatic move in the final heat, there were few aspects of the race that could sate the crowd's appetite for excitement, danger and close races.
Chrysler Crew, Bardahl and Miss U.S. all were easy winners in the first three heat races. Nice-guy Bob Miller drove Savair's Probe to victory in Heat 2-A after Muncey went dead in the west turn, a win that pleased Tri-Citians who pulled for Miller when he was driving the almost noncompetitive Miss Tri-Cities a year ago. In Heat 2-B, Bardahl was the only boat in a scheduled five-boat field that finished - two didn't even start and two others didn't finish.
The "Owensboro Derby" between McCormick and Sterett in Heat 2-C featured the fastest pair of heat times of the race.
The day's closest finish was the battle for second place between Budweiser and My Gypsy in Heat 2-C. With Miller in Savair's Probe already across the finish line by seven seconds. Ranger was making his bid. He had trailed Budweiser most of the race, but cut inside on the west turn and took the lead. But Budweiser, with rookie Mike Thomas at the wheel, showed some class for the only time all day when it streaked up on the outside and nipped Ranger by 2-10ths of a second at the finish.