In what is fast becoming a predictable situation, the Columbia Cup unlimited hydroplane race Sunday had a very unpredictable finish.
The U-7 American Speedy Printing driven by Jack Schafer Jr., and owned by R.B. "Bob" Taylor of Houston, outran the favored Miss Budweiser and outlasted the Atlas Van Lines to win the Columbia Cup in the 18th year of thunderboat racing on the Columbia River.
It was the first career victory for Schafer and first-year owner R.B. "Bob" Taylor of Houston. "It's the biggest thrill I've had in sports. Hell, it's a good thing it took me three times before I won, otherwise I might have got a big head," said Taylor with a laugh.
Schafer got his boat off ahead of the field and was nose-to-nose with the Atlas going into the first turn. The Miss Budweiser, driven by Jim Kropfeld, was a little cautious after being penalized for an early start in heat 2A and trailed the other two boats across the starting line.
However, Kropfeld poured the gas to the Bud and got to the first corner just behind Schafer only to find no place to go and as a result spun into the infield, missing a buoy. By the time he got straightened out his chances of catching up were all but impossible.
After the race an irate owner Bernie Little vented his anger, feeling his boat had been washed down illegally by the American Speedy Printing.
"Hell yes I feel I was robbed," said Little. "Look at my boat, look at my driver. I've had enough trouble with drivers. I don't want to go out here and get anybody else hurt. I just want to race a good, clean race. Hell, there are lanes out there, you don't have to wipe anybody out," he said.
Referee Lee Schoenith explained there weren't any provisions for a protest of a referee's decision.
Kropfeld said he was coming up on the inside when spray from Schafer's boat knocked the face shield off his helmet and cracked his cockpit's cowling.
"I got a wall of water in my face in the first turn," said Kropfeld. That made him disoriented and he missed the buoy, he said.
The water blast made his face sore, but Kropfeld required no medical attention. "I didn't realize it was so bad until I got back to the pits and tried to stand up," he said.
Little didn't blame Schafer, however. "Jack's a good driver and I'm sure it wasn't intentional. He probably didn't know Kropfeld was there and I'm sure he'll tell me he didn't see him. But anybody who races against Budweiser should know we're going to be there."
Schafer confirmed Little's opinion, "I never did find the Bud," he said. "When Chip broke down I looked for Jim but couldn't find him. Then after the third lap it was just keep it alive time."
Kropfeld concurred. "I don't think Jack should be penalized. There were a lot of judges out there."
The Atlas Van Lines, with Chip Hanauer driving, took over the lead coming out of the turn and it appeared the defending national champion would coast to its third victory of the year.
However, on the second lap the Atlas was forced out of the race when it lost its supercharger. "We just died a slow death," said Hanauer later. "The Speedy Printing had it together today and we didn't."
Kropfeld cut American Speedy Printing's 30-second lead to 11 seconds but never seriously challenged the eventual winner. American Speedy Printing's winning speed was 111.077 m.p.h.
The victory was worth $11,900.
Earlier in the afternoon the Atlas and Budweiser split heat victories. Kropfeld won his 14th of the year when he overtook the Atlas on the first lap and won 1A by 9.5 seconds, averaging 121.497 miles per hour.
After finishing third in heat 1A, the hometown Mis Renault threw a piston and had a small fire before the start of heat 2A that finished it for the afternoon.
Frank Kenney Toyota scored wire-to-wire victories in heats 1B and 2B to gain the finals.