Hydro Racing

July 31, 1978: Muncey goes poof; it's time to say Bud

While it won't be remembered as the most artistic of the 13 unlimiteds hydroplane races held in the Tri-Cities Sunday's Columbia Cup race nevertheless will leave its mark.

To begin with Ron Snyder's first unlimited hydro victory in the Miss Budweiser established beyond all doubt that neither the U-00 Atlas Van Lines nor veteran driver Bill Muncey is unbeatable.

It also demonstrated to the satisfaction of most of the estimated 35,000 fans lining the shores of the Columbia River that the Tri-Cities next year will have a boat representation of championship rank.

An almost unbelievable run of misfortune left the Squire Shop racing team heralded by many as the wave of the future, shaking its head.

And finally the victory by Miss Budweiser kept the race for the national championship mathematically, if not realistically, alive.

The 26.4-second victory by the Miss Budweiser over Miss Madison in the winner take-all final heat Sunday was particularly gratifying for Snyder and owner Bernie Little. After winning the national championship in 1977, the boat seemed to have been jinxed by luck the entire year.

"Considering the bad luck we've had it's a fabulous feeling to win. Everything went right as far as the boat was concerned so I had to perform too. I just can't give enough credit to the crew," said the driver from Piqua, Ohio.

Little, already the winningest owner of all time before adding this, his 29th, agreed. "It seems as though something has gone wrong, for us every race but not today. Ron became a professional today. He did a super job," he said.

A showdown between the Atlas and Budweiser was set up after the two old rivals sped to easy victories in their two respective heats.

In the final heat Muncey got the Atlas off to a quick lead but going up the backstretch after coming off the first run the Atlas went dead in the water.

"I thought Muncey was going to play game with me at first when he slowed up but the next thing I knew he was dead in the water," Snyder reported after the race.

Jim Lucero, Atlas crew chief diagnosed the problem as "Excessive ventilation, caused by a rod going through the engine wall. That rod took off like an Israel rocket," he reported.

The Australian boat, VS-21 Miss Bud driven by Bob Saniga, was a surprise third. The showing by the Australian boat marked the first time a driver from a foreign continent had scored points in a U.S. unlimited race since Count Theo Rossi of Italy turned the trick in 1938 in a boat called Alagi.

The victory by the Budweiser snapped the Atlas win skein at four and prevented Muncey from clinching his sixth national championship.

A victory by the Atlas in the final heat would have upped its point total for the season to 5,900 points. With only two races remaining, Budweiser, the 1977 champion, would have been mathematically eliminated.

As things stand Muncey and the Atlas needs to pick up 400 points in the final two races. To even have a chance the Budweiser must win all of its remaining heats.

"That's the first time in three years," said Muncey of the engine failure. "Those were expensive noises, particularly when you're the owner. Things were flying over and I didn't waste any time getting out."

The all-time winningest driver, foiled in his quest for No. 49, also acknowledged he was disappointed that the loss ruled out an undefeated season, something that has never been accomplished.

"Sure you start thinking about the possibility when you get close. However, I'm not sure the way we've been winning has been good for the sport. It's good for me and it's good for the company because of the attention it brings but it's not good to have one team win everything," he added philosophically.

The victory following the announcement Saturday that the Miss Budweiser will be sold to Tri-City contractor Ken Thompson and based here starting next year, was a popular one with local fans.

"Score one for the home team," quipped one spectator.

The victory was worth $8,235 for the Budweiser, Miss Madison picked up second place money of $6,210. Third place was worth $4,590 to the Australian VS-21 Miss Bud. The Elliot Dog Ration earned $3,780 and Atlas Van Lines $2,970.