Editor’s note: There are 42 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 27, 1980: John Walters flips out/Muncey gets final TC win in Atlas.
Barely anyone remembers who won the 1980 Columbia Cup.
That’s because of what happened to John Walters in the Pay ‘N Pak on a test run early Sunday morning before racing even began.
Walters had a packed house watching. And that’s maybe why everyone remembers Walters flipping the boat in one of the most spectacular blowovers ever.
On the test run, Walters had the shiny new turbine boat up to 170 mph along the frontstretch next to Columbia Park.
Suddenly, the front of the boat lifted up, doing 2 1/2 somersaults before landing right-side up, shattering the boat across the river.
“I remember thinking, ‘I can save this,’ ” Walters told the Herald back in 2004. “But then the boat kept climbing and climbing. It was like someone kicked out a jack from underneath me. Then I saw the blue bridge disappear, then I saw the horizon and then the boat’s shadow on the river. Just like my famous quote — sky water, sky water. It seemed like it took forever.
“I don’t remember hitting the water or coming out of the boat,” Walters continued. “But I do remember the water was cold, and I knew that I was supposed to raise my hands above my head if I was OK. When I did that, I remember a huge roar from the fans. I was hurting, but that made me feel great.”
Walters suffered a fractured left hip socket and a sprain of the left knee, elbow and shoulder.
Pak owner Dave Heerensperger, whose team had returned after a four-year hiatus, said the team was done for the year. But it would be back the following season, he said.
As for the actual race, Dean Chenoweth had won 20 straight heats in the Miss Budweiser in the team’s second Griffon Rolls engine boat, dominating the circuit by winning the first five races of the season and holding an insurmountable lead of 7,200 points in the national high-points standings, to the 3,875 of No. 2 in the standings, Bill Muncey and his Atlas Van Lines.
Between Chenoweth and Muncey, the two drivers broke the world speed record on the water over the three qualifying days (yes, back then, they qualified Thursday through Saturday). Chenoweth’s speed of 138.248 mph on Friday held up.
The race also introduced the first woman crew chief, Carol Lee, for the U-15 Miss Burien Hobby Center. It was also the first time race officials were up in a helicopter to keep an eye on the action.
On race day, Muncey had perhaps his best performance on the Columbia River — and scariest. At one point in the final, his boat became airborne. But he was able to get it back onto the water.
He held off Chenoweth, who suffered mechanical problems and a minor leak in the oil system, to win the final heat and snap Bud’s 20-heat win streak.
But in that final heat, Muncey’s average speed of 128.571 mph was a world record.
“I remember (Muncey) was really flying high,” said historian Fred Farley. “He even admitted afterward ‘I took too many chances out there.’”
It was Muncey’s final victory on the river.
In 1981, he died in a racing accident in Acapulco, Mexico.