There were a lot of surprising occurrences on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities Sunday afternoon.
But the biggest surprise of all was the victory by the Detroit boat, Myr's Special, in the fourth annual $20,000 Atomic Cup race for unlimited hydroplanes.
An estimated 50,000 racing fans jammed the shores of the Columbia to watch the hot boats duel for top honors, but the anticipated dogfights never came off.
Instead, it was the consistent performance of driver Dean Chenoweth, who gave the Myr's a fine ride in the final heat, that picked off the $5,000 first prize.
Only two weeks ago, Chenoweth piloted Myr's to victory in the Indiana Governor's Cup race at Madison, marking his first win ever as an unlimited driver and the first win for a Gale Enterprises-owned hydro in five years on the circuit.
Now, the Myr's Special, with an unprecedented two straight triumphs under its belt, holds a comfortable lead atop the national point-standings list. By completing all three of its heats yesterday, Myr's has finished 14 of 15 starts this season - and it's paying handsome dividends.
Myr's Special and Notre Dame, driven by Leif Borgersen, actually both finished with 1,000 points for three heats, but the win by Myr's in the final heat provided the margin of victory.
Chenoweth's average time for the 45 miles of racing (he finished second in both the earlier two heats) was 100.531 miles per hour, well below the record 102.913 set by the late Col. Warner Gardner in the Miss Eagle Electric in last year's Atomic Cup win.
Both Chenoweth and Borgersen were well aware that a first-place finish was needed in the final heat to walk off with all the marbles. But the championship encounter proved no contest as Myr's showed its roostertail to the pack early in the race and the outcome never was in doubt.
Notre Dame and Atlas Van Lines, driven by Jim McCormick, were the point leaders (each with 700) heading into the final heat. Myr's had only 600.
Chenoweth jockeyed to the inside lane at the start and led across the starting line, with the other two boats and Pay 'N Pak in hot pursuit. Atlas, which had been running extremely well all afternoon, blew an engine in the first turn and was finished for the day.
Myr's churned through the corner in the lead and left some rough water for the rest of the pack. By the time the spray cleared, Chenoweth had his boat out in front with a sizeable lead and it was all over.
Actually, the best race developed for third place, where Walter Kade in Savair's Mist battled for all six laps with Tommy Fults in Pay 'N Pak. Savair did manage to cling to the lead all the way, but Pay 'N Pak finished third in overall point standings.
Borgersen had the Notre Dame purring smoothly in Heat 1-A as he won in a breeze over Myr's with the best average speed of the day at 106.215 mph, including a top lap of 108.989.
One of the favorites, Bill Muncey in Miss U.S., got a great flying start in Heat 1-B and held off the charges of Atlas Van Lines to win with an average speed of 104.046.
Then the fireworks started in the second heat.
The two first-heat winners were so intent on battling each other that they forgot about the clock and both jumped the gun, along with Bill Sterett in Miss Budweiser. The only legal starter was Pay 'N Pak.
Notre Dame came out of the first turn in front and steadily pulled away from the other boats. Muncey's chances withered when the Miss U.S. blew an engine in the backstretch of the fourth lap.
Borgersen didn't realize that he had jumped the gun until the final lap when he didn't get the green flag. It was then too late to catch the sputtering Pay 'N Pak on the extra lap, although the Notre Dame almost got the job done, losing out by a scant two seconds.
If Borgersen had not jumped the gun, he would have been the winner despite his second place finish in the final heat.
Atlas looked like the boat to beat after its performance in Heat 2-B. McCormick fought off Myr's at the start and showed great acceleration off the exit buoy up the back chute to shoot away from the rest of the field.
McCormick turned an average speed of 110.294 mph on the first lap to shatter the old lap record of 110.024, set by Muncey in the U.S. two years ago. Atlas went on to win the heat by a commanding margin over Myr's and set the stage for the decisive finale.