Editor’s note: There are 39 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 31-Aug. 1, 1982: Tragedy.
Dean Chenoweth showed he could dominate on the Columbia River river.
He and Bill Muncey were the sport’s two superstars — with up-and-coming Chip Hanauer on the way.
But Muncey had died in a racing accident the year before in Acapulco, Mexico.
And then, Chenoweth was gone the following year.
In an eerie coincidence, the Herald ran an Associated Press story on Chenoweth the Thursday before the 1982 Columbia Cup race.
In it, Chenoweth talked about how much Muncey was on his mind.
“I thought Bill was going to be out there forever,” Chenoweth said. “It hasn’t changed the way I drive. I still have to drive as hard as I can. If I don’t, I know somebody is going to beat me.”
On Saturday, the day before the main race, Chenoweth took the Miss Budweiser on a qualifying run around the river.
Coming down the front stretch at 175 mph, the boat lifted up, flipped over and landed upside down.
Chenoweth had no chance.
He had a weak pulse when he was rescued from the boat, but efforts to keep him alive failed.
He had suffered massive head, neck and chest injuries. A team of doctors at Kennewick General Hospital couldn’t inflate his lungs, and he was pronounced dead about 45 minutes to an hour after the accident.
He is the only unlimited driver to die on the Columbia River.
Suddenly, racing didn’t seem so important.
But out of Chenoweth’s tragic death came something good.
Bud owner Bernie Little felt he had to do something to make the sport safer after losing his friend, and his team developed a canopy to enclose the driver’s cockpit.
Today the enclosed cockpit is a required piece of equipment for every boat.
Meanwhile, Hanauer returned to the Tri-Cities as the driver of the Atlas Van Lines, with Fran Muncey running the team.
Fran hired Hanauer to drive, and in qualifying he was the fastest with a record lap of 138.675 mph.
But Tom D’Eath in the Squire Shop proved to be too much, winning in the final.
On a day where the winds got up to 20-25 mph, D’Eath twice signaled thumbs down after taking two practice laps in the final heat. But referee Lee Schoenith overruled him, so the race went on.
Atlas could only pick up 225 points on race day, and the Pay ‘N Pak suffered too much damage during the day to do anything.
So with the contenders out of the final, D’Eath had an easy time of it, winning the final in the Squire Shop, with Executone and George Johnson second.
D’Eath and the Squire left the Tri-Cities for Seattle suddenly in first place in the national high points championship.
“This is the first time for both Bob Steil, as an owner, and myself, as a driver, to be in first place,” D’Eath told the Herald after the race. “It’s really a comeback story, I think, for both of us.”