Like Western movies that always end with the hero and heroine riding off in the sunset, unlimited hydroplane races seem to call for veteran driver Bill Muncey to walk off with top honors.
That's the way the script read Sunday as Muncey in the Atlas Van Lines outran Squire Shop and outlasted challengers Circus Circus and Miss Budweiser to win the Columbia Cup race.
The Atlas averaged a record 119.585 m.p.h. in winning the final heat.
However, while the ending had a familiar ring to it, the issue this time was in doubt until midway through the final.
Miss Budweiser, driven by Dean Chenoweth of Tallahassee, Fla., was leading the Atlas Van Lines by five boat lengths when a stripped gear in its supercharger put the boat out of the race.
"It was your race if you hadn't broke," Muncey told Chenoweth after the race.
Earlier the Miss Bud and Atlas treated the fans to some of the finest deck-to-deck racing ever seen on the Columbia River. After the lead had changed hands several times Atlas moved out to score a narrow five-boat length victory.
That took place in a restart of heat 2A brought on when Circus Circus driver Steve Reynolds went into the water automatically stopping the race. Circus Circus had been leading a field that included Miss Budweiser, Atlas and Tri-City Tile and Masonry.
"That's the fastest I've ever gone deck-to-deck with anyone in my life," Muncey said after the race. "I enjoyed it and I'm sure Dean did too. You have to have a lot of confidence in the other guy's abilities to go into a corner at those speeds. With Chenoweth, however, there's no reason to worry."
With the victory Muncey became the first unlimited driver to ever score eight consecutive victories. His string includes the last two races in 1978.
Ironically, the last race he lost was the Columbia Cup last year.
Muncey has won all six this year and now has 56 career victories.
Second place went to Chip Hanauer in the Squire Shop which averaged 113.122 m.p.h. Van's PX, driven by Ron Armstrong, was third at 102.810 m.p.h. and Chuck King in Barney Armstrong's Machine was fourth at 93.809 m.p.h. Completing the field was the Tempus driven by 65-year-old Chuck Hickling of Bellevue at 86.722.
Miss Tri-City Tile and Masonry owned by Ken Thompson of Kennewick and the local favorite burnt out a bearing in the second heat after finishing third in heat 1B and failed to make the final heat.
Heralded before the race as the fastest field ever assembled, the race pretty much lived up to its billing.
The Miss Budweiser, for instance, came out smoking in heat 1B and set a record of 129.829 miles per hour eclipsing the lap mark of 124.481 set by Mickey Remund in the Miss Budweiser in 1976. The Atlas' winning time for the heat of 124.412 was also a record.
Atlas also set a course record for a 37 1/2-mile course. The winning time of 121.168 was nearly eight miles better than the 113.493 m.p.h. George Henley did in 1974.
Nor was the race without a bit of controversy, Chuck King, driver of the Barney Armstrong Machine, was highly agitated after the race claiming that Muncey in the Atlas had cut him off in the first turn of the final heat.
"I beat him to the first turn. Whether he saw me or not I don't know but I rode right up his roostertail. I had to shut everything off to keep from cutting him out from his deck. I could have got myself killed," King said.
However, Lee Schoenith, serving as the Commissioner's representative, said no violation had been observed by the referee or his assistants. "As a consequence," Schoenith said, "it's a judgment situation and under those circumstances no protest is allowed."
Muncey dismissed King's complaint saying, "A lot of people come up with various ways of complaining about losing. I'm not here to listen to that nonsense. If there is anything official I'll be glad to speak to it but there isn't any."
First place of the estimated $46,000 purse was worth approximately 7,000. The exact amount is determined by heat victories and qualifying speeds.
The crowd was estimated at 40,000.