Editor’s note: There are 44 days until the APBA HAPO Gold Cup Heat 1A race takes place on the Columbia River. At the same time, the Tri-City Water Follies’ annual event is celebrating its 50th year of racing unlimited hydroplanes. So the Herald will take a daily look at past storylines leading up to the Gold Cup. These are in no particular order:
July 21, 1974: What’s a turbine, the Aussies, and that Muncey guy again.
The 1974 race on the Columbia River was the only time the Water Follies had the World Championship race here.
But it will be remembered mainly for two things: the first-ever turbine-powered boat, and a seven-boat final for the first time ever, and it wasn’t supposed to happen.
In addition, a team from Australia, competing as the Solo VS-41, made an appearance in the pits to give the field a 15-boat count.
The Aussies, however, could never get going with too many equipment problems.
Because it was the World Championships, there was a lot of racing for one day: nine preliminary heats, one consolation, and the final.
And one of those 15 boats in 1974 was new and amazing — the U-95 turbine boat that needed a big battery the size of a small garbage dumpster, plugged into the boat, to get the thing started.
It made a high-pitched sound that no one had heard before.
But it seemed to perform well with Leif Borgersen driving.
However, in the final on that Sunday, the boat collided with another in the first turn, losing much of its rear wing.
The boat still finished fourth to maintain its No. 3 ranking in the national standings.
A week later in Seattle, the boat blew up and sank.
Still, it was a precursor of things to come, as more teams produced turbine powered race boats until it was the norm.
As for the legendary Bill Muncey, in his Atlas Van Lines, he hadn’t scored enough points to qualify for the final.
He was, however, the alternate.
During the warmup, Muncey spotted driver Ron Armstrong and the Valu-Mart going dead in the water.
Sitting in his boat in the water next to the pits, Muncey fired up the Atlas and went out on the water.
But Armstrong got the Valu-Mart restarted before the one-minute gun, meaning Muncey should have returned to the pits.
Muncey stayed out, turning the final into a seven-boat race.
Up to that point, no one had ever seen a seven-boat race on this river.
“Seven boats on that course was just too tight,” race historian Fred Farley told the Herald in 2004. “Referee Bill Newton was going nuts. Muncey said he never saw the Valu-Mart. But in the first turn the Valu-Mart actually goes by Muncey. They throw the flag out at him. He ignores it. He physically finished behind the Valu-Mart and said he didn’t see it. They slapped him with a humongous fine.”
By the way, George Henley in the Pay ‘n Pak won the race.
It was his third win in five races to that point that season.