For the past three weeks after his first victory in unlimited hydroplane racing, Jim McCormick was almost apologetically referred to as the "Cinderella" winner of the Madison, Ind., Gold Cup.
You can forget all that "fairy tale" nonsense now and stop wondering if McCormick's Gold Cup victory was really a fluke.
He is no longer the "Cinderella" pilot after winning the sixth annual Atomic Cup in Miss Madison on the Columbia River Sunday afternoon before an estimated 40,000 fans.
His gold and brown boat roostertailing a shimmering wall of water behind him, McCormick won the championship by 22 seconds with an average speed of 100.558 m.p.h. to win the $5,875 first-place prize.
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McCormick's victory was an upset. But if someone with sour grapes tells you the 1971 Atomic Cup was really the race lost by Billy Schumacher instead of the race won by Jim McCormick, don't listen to him.
True, the Pride of Pay 'N Pak hard-luck driver nearly had the Cup brimming with his own champagne before the championship heat was run after easily winning his first two heats. But Schumacher, who won here in 1967 in Miss Bardahl, was instead going to taste only a cold beer in the pits after drifting downstream under a 98-degree sun while the final heat was being run.
The championship heat started off as expected, with Schumacher beating the other four drivers to the starting buoy.
By the end of the first lap though, McCormick had caught Schumacher and veteran Bill Muncey in Atlas Van Lines coming out of upstream turns and led Schumacher by two-tenths of a second.
As the three leaders took the downstream turns, Pride sputtered for a moment, heaved a billow of black smoke into the air and came to a drifting halt.
While Pride floated downstream, Miss Madison was barreling in the opposite direction and gaining roostertails by the half-dozen on Atlas.
Dazzling the swimming-suit throng with his driving, McCormick built a 17-second lead on Muncey by the end of lap four.
Two laps later, he was saluting the crowd with his victory as Madison took the checkered flag in the time of eight minutes, 57.0 seconds.
Muncey, finishing second in the finale, tied McCormick for the point lead with 1,000. But McCormick, by virtue of winning the championship heat, was the Atomic Cup winner.
Pride of Pay 'N Pak, by failing to finish the final heat, was fourth with the 800 points it received for winning two heats.
Taking third with 850 points was Notre Dame, piloted by Billy Sterett.
Two-time defending national champion Miss Budweiser, driven by Dean Chenoweth, failed to gain the finals and finished sixth.
Schumacher's hydro, sister ship to the 1970 Atomic Cup winner Lil Buzzard, driven by the late Tommy Fults, who was killed in the San Diego race last year, burned up the course first two times around the 2 1/2-mile stretch. All heats are 15 miles or six times around the course.
In Heat 1-B, Schumacher posted the most lopsided victory of the heats by beating McCormick by 40 seconds.
In Heat 2-A, Schumacher outdueled Chenoweth for an 11.6-second victory after twice beating Miss Bud at the upstream turns.
Miss Madison, meanwhile, finished runnerup to Atlas in Heat 2-B to gain the finals.
In Heat 2-B, Muncey gave witness to the possibility he might, after five unsuccessful tries, win the Atomic Cup by beating McCormick in the time of 8:36.0 to 8:58.4.
In Heat 1-A, delayed 30 minutes because the electric clock wouldn't work. Sterett took the checkered flag in the only close race of the day. Sterett in Notre Dame outmaneuvered Chenoweth in Bud and Muncey in Atlas at the first turn, and after Bud conked out on the backstretch, Sterett slowly built his lead over Muncey and won the heat by only six seconds. They were neck-and-neck for four laps before Sterett finally pulled away.
McCormick, who started his thunderboat career in 1966 aboard the 12-year-old Miss Madison, is now the leading unlimited driver on the tour with 5,244 points and $29,460.