The Tri-City area's debut on the unlimited hydroplane circuit is an apparent success - financially, artistically and safety-wise.
That appeared to be the consensus of opinion today of 55,000-plus fans who viewed the inaugural Atomic Cup Regatta Sunday on the choppy Columbia River.
That opinion was shared by unlimited hydroplane officials who repeatedly have expressed satisfaction with Tri-Cities as a race site during the past week.
Most contented of the hydro officials was Bernie Little, owner of Miss Budweiser. With Seattle milkman Bill Brow at the throttle, Miss Budweiser methodically swept to victory in each of its three heats Sunday while its prime threats - Mira Slovak in Tahoe Miss and Bill Sterett in Miss Chrysler Crew - were derailed with mechanical difficulties.
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The victory snapped a string of frustrations for Little and Brow, in addition to earning them a $5,000 payday. Budweiser had a scant 119-point lead in national point standings over Tahoe Miss going into yesterday's race, even though the Tampa boat had not won a race. Tahoe Miss, with Slovak at the controls, roared into Tri-Cities fresh from victories at the Gold Cup in Detroit and the British Columbia Cup last weekend in Kelowna.
But it was all Budweiser yesterday as Tahoe Miss, easy winner in Heat 2-A, blew engines in each of its other two heats. Chrysler Crew, which had the best chance of spoiling Budweiser's victory bid, was leading the final heat when Sterett's craft, powered by twin Chrysler hemi engines, went dead in the water with mechanical problems.
From that point on, Budweiser and Brow needed only to finish the race to be assured of victory. The 1,200 - point win boosted Budweiser's national point total to 4,215, a comfortable 900-point edge over runner-up Tahoe Miss.
It was a bad day around for the huge throng's sentimental favorites - Slovak and Bill Muncey. Slovak, who thrilled the crowds for three days with his spectacular aerobatics in his Junkers stunt plane, is a natural favorite because of his tremendously exciting approach to a dangerous sport. Muncey, well-known and highly popular in Tri-Cities, didn't even get into the race yesterday. He threw a rod through the crankshaft with his $Bill boat in tune-up runs and, thoroughly disgusted, had to be towed to the pits.
Another sentimental favorite -Miss Tri-Cities, sponsored by the Tri-City Nuclear Council - was hopelessly outclassed in the mechanical and power departments and those problems, compounded by a couple of driving errors, left the old Slo-Mo-Shun V thoroughly outclassed in all departments.
Driver Bob Miller, however, could take heart in the fact that Miss Tri-Cities managed to finish both its heats for the first time this season. She was fifth in Heath 1-B and limped home last in Heat 2-B, dragging the final three laps with a blown supercharger. Miss Tri-Cities finished with 254 points and picked up $675.
With $Bill in the pits, it appeared the race would settle down to a duel between Budweiser and Tahoe Miss. Smirnoff, which had clocked 111 mph earlier in the tune-up run over the 2 1/2-mile course, was given an outside chance, but nobody else was given too much chance.
Sterett, the rookie driver from Ownesboro, Ky., however, had different thoughts with his unorthodox Miss Chrysler Crew.
Plagued by mechanical problems in most of his previous four starts on the unlimited circuit, Sterett apparently was over his engine jinx yesterday - at least for the first two heats. He won Heat 1-A in impressive fashion and ran a strong second to Budweiser in 2-B.
Sterett, showing fine timing and hitting the starting line all three times with a full head of steam, was in the middle of a three -boat race in the final heat. Sterett had the Chrysler slightly ahead as they streaked into the second lap at speeds in excess of 150 mph.
But a split - second later, the Chrysler engine went dead and Sterett's victory bid went out the window.
Tahoe Miss, which barely qualified for the final heat despite waltzing to victory in Heat 2-A, had scant chance for overall victory against Budweiser in the finale, but Slovak was leading the championship heat until he conked out his second engine in the lower turn.
Chrysler and Budweiser were 1-2 coming out of the lower turn on the first lap after Tahoe Miss was slightly washed out. But Slovak, fighting the bouncing boat, quickly recovered and was back in the thick of it one lap later. He passed "Wild Bill" Cantrell on the upper turn in the second lap and had sped past Budweiser when it went dead in the water coming out of the lower turn on the third lap.
From that point on, Budweiser needed only to keep the motor running to lock up the victory.
Brow was content to win the final heat with a modest clocking of 92.402 mph. He was followed across the finish line by Smirnoff and Savair's Probe.
Budweiser, pushed by Chrysler Crew, posted the day's fastest clocking by winning Heat 2-B with an average of 98.360 mph for the 15 - mile route. Chrysler ran second in that heat with a 94.207 average. Budweiser averaged 94.240 in winning Heat 1-B.
Chrysler Crew posted the day's second - fastest heat time with 97.122 in 1-A. Slovak ran 96.531 mph in taking 2-A while Cantrell booted Smirnoff home second in 94.433 mph. The day's fastest single lap was 182.975 by Tahoe Miss on the second lap in 2-A.
Behind Budweiser in the final standings was Smirnoff, which won $3,700 with 825 points. Sevair's Probe, slow but steady, collected $2,700 for third - place finish and Miss Chrysler Crew picked up $2,100 for fourth with 700 points, despite going pointless with its final - heat engine failure.