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BILL MUNCEY: THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE
By Fred Farley - APBA/HYDRO-PROP Unlimited Historian

Chapter 4: 1962
The 1962 Unlimited hydroplane season had all of the preliminary indications of a great year with a lot of formidable challengers to Bill Muncey's National Championship crown on the horizon.

Muncey and MISS CENTURY 21 had ridden the crest of the wave for two years, but had the odds of history stacked against them. No boat had ever won the High Points title three years in a row.

And only one driver (Lee Schoenith) had ever taken three straight season titles (in 1953, 1954, and 1955 with GALE II and GALE V)--and that had occurred when Unlimited racing was still quite regional in nature with no one boat ever participating in every race.

During Schoenith's championship years, he had won six races and finished second or third twelve times. Lee's consistency had paid off when racing against speedier rivals. He also benefited from the fact that no other team had participated in more races than the GALE boats.

Times had changed. Every race on the calender in 1962 was considered to be of national--rather than regional--importance. That year, for the first time, the National Champion would be attending every single event. Gone were the days when an owner could pick and choose which race he wished to concentrate upon if he expected to win the coveted Martini & Rossi National High Points Trophy.

Unlike the previous year, a bumper crop of new boats appeared on the scene. Ole Bardahl introduced a new MISS BARDAHL, designed and built by Ted Jones, for Ron Musson to drive. (This was to be the last Unlimited built by Jones, although he would design a few more over the next couple of years.)

Shirley Mendelson McDonald of Detroit revived a tradition started in 1935 by her late father, Herb Mendelson, with the latest in a series of hulls named NOTRE DAME, the first since 1947. The new NOTRE DAME was a Les Staudacher project driven by rookie Warner Gardner.

Built at the same time as NOTRE DAME by Staudacher was a new $ BILL for Bill Schuyler who at long last had retired the unsuccessful "Ugly Duckling" predecessor that Fred Wickens had built.

NOTRE DAME and $ BILL were virtually identical, featured "drop" sponsons, and used Allison power. Rex Manchester was hired to drive $ BILL after the MISS SPOKANE organization had retired from racing.

Another new boat for 1962 was an enormous twin-Allison entry for Jack Schafer named SUCH CRUST IV, a namesake for the surprisingly competitive namesake that had used a single Allison and been destroyed at the 1961 President's Cup Regatta.

A more apt title would have been SUCH CRUST III, because the hull was more of a step backwards than anything else.

MISS RENO, the former MAVERICK, became the property of Nevada casino owner Bill Harrah and was renamed TAHOE MISS. Driven by Russ Schleeh and managed by ex-driver Bill Stead, the boat would be the host entry for the first of a new series of races on Lake Tahoe at Stateline, Nevada, sponsored by Harrah.

The first significant "boat news" of the year was the word that MISS U.S. I was now the fastest propeller-driven boat in the world. With Roy Duby at the wheel, the U.S. had eclipsed MISS THRIFTWAY's 1960 mile straightaway record of 192.001 miles per hour with a new mark of 200.419556 on Guntersville Lake in Alabama.

Using Rolls-Royce Merlin power, Duby had also erased HAWAII KAI III's 1957 kilometer record of 195.329 with a new mark of 198.168.

An infrequent driver in competition, Roy never won a closed course race. But as the sport's first official 200 mile an hour man, he achieved immortality.

The 200.419 record would stand for 38 years until eclipsed in 2000 by Russ Wicks who did 205.494 with the turbine-powered MISS FREEI.

Designed by Dan Arena and built by Les Staudacher, MISS U.S. I had always been a very fast boat. And even though she hadn't won a race since 1958, the U.S. had been the fastest Gold Cup qualifier during 1959, 1960, and 1961.

Unfortunately, the adjustments that were made to MISS U.S. I for the straightaway record attempt ruined the boat for closed course racing. During the 1962 season with Don Wilson in the cockpit, she ran continually in the middle of the pack, showing all of her six years of wear and tear.

The newly crowned record holder could average no higher than 95.070 (at the Diamond Cup) in a heat of racing.

The season opened uncharacteristically that year in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on July 21-22. The traditional late June/early July Detroit Memorial Regatta was no more. The prize money demands of the APBA Unlimited Racing Commission had proved too costly for the sponsoring Windmill Pointe Yacht Club. After fifteen consecutive years in the sport, the WPYC was out of the boat racing business.

Prize money problems had also brought down the curtain on the traditional late-summer Silver Cup race, sponsored by the prestigious Detroit Yacht Club. This was a major blow to the sport, because the DYC had for nearly half a century been the acknowledged Capitol of big-time power boat racing in North America.

For the first time since before World War II, the Motor City was in danger of being bereft of Unlimited hydroplane racing entirely.

And Detroit wasn't the only trouble spot on the URC's 1962 schedule. On the Fourth of July, only three race sites were firm: Coeur d'Alene, Seattle, and Madison. This was an incredible reversal of fortune. (In 1958, the Commission's first full year of operation, twelve regattas had crowded the Unlimited calender.)

Newly elected Commissioner Lee Schoenith saw it necessary to maintain a hard line stance on the issue of cash prizes--even if it meant turning down two sanction requests in his own home town. The Internal Revenue Service was questioning the sport's deductibility as a legitimate business expense. For racing to survive, it had to professionalize itself.

Happily, a new organization was formed in time to stage an Unlimited event in Detroit on August 26. The President's Cup Regatta returned to the fold. And the new Harrah's Tahoe Regatta was also approved by Commissioner Schoenith. This brought the season total for 1962 to six races, the smallest number since 1946 (which had four).

Bill Muncey and MISS CENTURY 21 picked up right where they had left off at the end of 1961. Muncey again won at Coeur d'Alene and earned himself the local nickname of "Diamond Bill."

After the first race of the season, several things were glaringly obvious. For one, the U-60 was still running in the same speed range as the year before. The other fast boats were not. Only one--GALE V with Bill Cantrell--came anywhere close to C-21's performance with Cantrell doing 104 miles per hour to Muncey's 108 in Heat 1-B.

The new MISS BARDAHL was a late and unprepared entry.

TAHOE MISS ended up an overall second but proved to be an embarrassment, being outrun by the underpowered TEMPEST and NOTRE DAME in Heat 2-A.

MISS SEATTLE TOO and Bill Brow took third-place and were the only team besides MISS CENTURY 21 and GALE V to clear 100 miles per hour. Still, MISS SEATTLE TOO was definitely running slower than before and--Rolls-Royce Merlin power not withstanding--was trounced in the Final Heat by Chuck Hickling and the Allison-powered TEMPEST.

In short, of the supposed "hot dogs," MISS CENTURY 21 alone had its act together. The craft had won all three of its heats at Coeur d'Alene and was a model of speed and consistency. The same could not be said for the rest of the fleet.

At the Gold Cup in Seattle, two weeks later, Muncey and C-21 didn't waste time in re-affirming their superiority over the other seventeen hopefuls. They qualified at 111.111 for the three-lap/nine-mile distance and later upped their time to 116.212 to claim the "Pop" Cooper Memorial Trophy for the fastest Gold Cup qualifier. (This compared to the qualifying record of 119.956, established in 1958 by Bill Stead and the original MAVERICK.)

GALE V, perhaps the only contender capable of giving MISS CENTURY 21 a race, qualified second at 113.524. MISS SEATTLE TOO with Dallas Sartz was third at 112.188. Fourth-place on the ladder, incredibly was TEMPEST, which did 111.417 and bettered the times of such well-financed entries as TAHOE MISS, MISS BARDAHL, and MISS U.S. I.

Because of the inexplicable drop in performance by the top teams, a smooth-running field horse such as TEMPEST (the future SAVAIR'S PROBE) had to be considered an extremely competitive challenger for the 1962 Gold Cup with Chuck Hickling at the wheel.

Winning the Cooper Trophy was considered by some to be a jinx. This was because no Gold Cup fastest qualifier in recent years had been able to win the big race. This notion vanished into nothingness when MISS CENTURY 21 coasted to an easy victory and duplicated her Coeur d'Alene performance by winning all three heats.

Bill Muncey now had four Gold Cups in seven tries and stood second only to Gar Wood who had won five straight between 1917 and 1921. And yet, as impressive as Bill's record had been thus far in the race of races, not for ten long years would another Muncey Gold Cup victory be entered into the books.

In winning his second race of the season, Bill now had a total of fourteen Unlimited Class wins, which put him in a tie for number-one with Danny Foster.

MISS CENTURY 21 claimed its fourth straight race win under cold, cloudy, rainy skies. After eleven years of perfect race day weather in Seattle, Mother Nature could not have been more uncooperative. It was a truly miserable day and reflected the pitifully low level of competition.

Racing was a calculated risk as heavy winds whipped up Lake Washington like the froth on a root beer. MISS SEATTLE TOO, accelerating toward the first turn in Heat 1-A, hit a wave and blew apart. Driver Sartz escaped with a badly broken leg.

TEMPEST suffered extensive fire damage in Heat 1-B, had to be withdrawn, and was retired for the season.

TAHOE MISS again disappointed by only completing three quarters of a lap all day.

GALE V started out well and turned in the day's fastest lap (at 109.091) but couldn't finish a heat.

On the plus side, MISS BARDAHL showed some improvement and was the only boat besides MISS CENTURY 21 to average a 30-mile heat at over 100 miles per hour (in Heat 1-A). Ron Musson managed to tie down an overall second-place but was outperformed by NOTRE DAME and had to settle for a third in the Final Heat.

In the opinion of Associate Unlimited Historian David Greene, "Despite flashes of good form with considerable promise for the future, the new 'Green Dragon' was still not as able as its hard-cornering predecessor of the year before. Clearly, Ole Bardahl would have been better advised to have run the old boat for one more year, while bringing the new craft along slowly."

After only two races, Muncey already had a formidable lead in APBA National High Points. In addition to dominating the Unlimited Class in 1962, Bill was also, for a time, leading in 7-Litre Class High Points with his self-owned BEST WISHES, which he drove when he could and not conflict with his assignment in MISS CENTURY 21.

Then it was on to Detroit where the local citizenry, headed by the likes of Joe Schoenith and Jack Love, had banded together to form the Spirit Of Detroit Association. It was the start of a new racing tradition for the Motor City.

MISS CENTURY 21 easily dispatched a dozen other entries and added the Spirit Of Detroit Trophy to its ever-growing list of accolades. C-21 was the only boat to clear the 100 mile an hour hurdle for a 15-mile heat and did so at 104.530 in Heat 2-B.

The fastest 3-mile lap was again turned by GALE V's Bill Cantrell at 108.488. Cantrell managed to win Heat 2-A but ran into bad luck again and couldn't finish either the 1-B section or the Final. GALE V arguably could have won a race in 1962 were it not not for her frustrating inability to finish.

Rookie Warner Gardner won the first heat of his career with the new NOTRE DAME in Heat 1-A at Detroit. But he was beaten decisively by MISS CENTURY 21 in the next two outings.

TAHOE MISS had another erratic day with Russ Schleeh running a solid first and second in the preliminaries but slipping to a distant fifth in the Final. After the race, reports began to circulate that Schleeh was in disfavor with TAHOE MISS Team Manager Bill Stead and on his way out.

MISS BARDAHL and MISS U.S. I both had horrendous luck at Detroit and didn't score a point all day.

The generally poor showing by many of the better financed teams allowed a couple of low-budget "also-rans" (MISS MADISON with Marion Cooper and THUNDERBOLT with Bud Saile) to qualify for the Final Heat and finish very respectably overall.

In claiming his third victory of the year, Bill Muncey now had a total of fifteen Unlimited Class wins since 1956. He had now moved ahead of the previous leader Danny Foster. Bill was the most victorious driver of all time, a distinction that he would never relinquish and which remains in the record book to this day.

On a human interest level, Muncey had the opportunity at Detroit to run against the "Old Pro" Foster who finished fourth in Heat 2-B. Danny was making one of his rare 1960s appearances as pilot for the Schoeniths' workhorse GALE VII, powered by an enormous Packard PT-Boat engine.

This was to be the last appearance in competition by the two Superstars on the same race course with each other. They had first crossed competitive swords at the 1950 Silver Cup when the veteran Foster was the winner with the original SUCH CRUST and the rookie Muncey had sunk in the First Heat with MISS GREAT LAKES.

The one time that Danny and Bill had faced each other with comparable equipment was during the 1955 season. Muncey with MISS THRIFTWAY was beaten in two races out of three by Foster who was driving Guy Lombardo's TEMPO VII.

Bill arguably should have won the 1955 President's Cup. That was the time when Danny spun out in the first turn of the Final Heat and Muncey thought he had the race wrapped up. But Foster rebounded quickly and worked his way up through the field. He passed first one boat and then another and caught up with the front-running MISS THRIFTWAY. TEMPO VII thundered past Muncey as if he were tied to the dock, much to Bill's astonishment, and went on to claim the victory.

A week after winning the 1962 Spirit of Detroit Trophy, MISS CENTURY 21 continued her win streak by annexing the Indiana Governor's Cup on the Ohio River at Madison. The team scored another three-heat grand slam. The boat and driver had now tied the six-in-a-row victory record set in 1957 and 1958 by HAWAII KAI III and Jack Regas.

Inasmuch as this was third Governor's Cup victory in as many years by owner Willard Rhodes, this entitled Rhodes to gain permanent possession of the trophy, as per the Madison Regatta rules.

Muncey and C-21 had now won twelve heats in a row--225 miles at a winning pace. Not since the glory days of Chuck Thompson and MISS PEPSI, a decade earlier, had an Unlimited hydroplane compiled a more perfect competitive record.

MISS PEPSI had finished first in ten consecutive heats in 1951, before failing to start in two heats at New Martinsville, West Virginia, the last race of the season. MISS PEPSI had then won its first seven heats of 1952 before registering a DNF at the Gold Cup in Seattle.

Unlike MISS PEPSI, MISS CENTURY 21 sported a perfect reliability record. Beginning with the first heat of the first race of 1960, Muncey and C-21 had never failed to finish. They had completed an unprecedented 52 consecutive heats.

Ron Musson and MISS BARDAHL finished second at Madison with the "Green Dragon" beginning to emerge as a contender of some substance. Musson averaged 101 and 100 miles per hour and finished first and second in the preliminary heats. MISS BARDAHL actually led MISS CENTURY 21 in the final go-around but was penalized an extra lap for jumping the gun along with Russ Schleeh in TAHOE MISS.

The official corrected order of finish in the Final Heat was MISS CENTURY 21 first, the community-owned MISS MADISON second, MISS BARDAHL third, TAHOE MISS fourth, and Bob Miller's MISS B & I fifth.

With four down and two races remaining on the Unlimited calender, people were beginning to wonder if MISS CENTURY 21 was ever going to stop winning. It did indeed seem that C-21 was unbeatable as long as she kept running.

The 1962 President's Cup was definitely an "upper" in a generally "downer" year with respect to high performance by the fleet as a whole. Despite the Potomac River's reputation as a rugged place to race, the track proved surprisingly swift that weekend.

MISS CENTURY 21, MISS BARDAHL, and GALE V drew each other in Heat 1-B and finished in that order. Muncey toured the 15 miles at 111.639 miles per hour, thereby achieving the fastest heat of the year for the third straight season. Musson ran second at 107.935, the quickest time of 1962 for any boat other than C-21, while Cantrell took third at 103.966.

Luck of the draw placed MISS CENTURY 21, MISS BARDAHL, and GALE V together again in Heat 2-B, but this time Musson and Cantrell both fell by the wayside and into the DNF category. This nullified the BARDAHL's and the GALE's chances of qualifying for the Final Heat as Muncey roared around the 3-mile course virtually unopposed at a solid 107.968.

Although Musson and Cantrell were missing from the Championship go-around, Muncey still had to face TAHOE MISS, which was now being driven by the formidable Chuck Thompson, a replacement for the fired Russ Schleeh. The former MAVERICK had won Heats 1-A and 2-A hands down at speeds of 101 and 100 miles per hour.

When the roostertails subsided after the Final Heat, the World's Fair boat had again outclassed the opposition with a speed of 108.216. TAHOE MISS had checked in second at 104.206.

Muncey and Thompson had duplicated their 1956 performances on the same race course when Bill was an overall first with the original MISS THRIFTWAY and Chuck had taken second with MISS PEPSI, a twin-Allison-powered step hydroplane.

In a race characterized by higher than usual speeds, even the big lumbering SUCH CRUST IV was at the top of her form. The CRUST averaged 100.055 in the President's Cup Final Heat.

This was the fastest time ever recorded in a heat of competition by a Jack Schafer-owned boat, and also a testament to the driving skill of pilot Fred Alter who had had such a narrow escape the year before on the same track.

The competitive pressure exerted on MISS CENTURY 21 at Washington, D.C., had prompted Bill Muncey to urge his mount to a world record average for three heats. His time for 45 miles of racing was an unprecedented 109.157. This meant that C-21 was arguably the fastest boat in history.

It appeared that only HAWAII KAI III (in its 1957/1958 configuration) or the fantastically swift MISS SUPERTEST III could have provided MISS CENTURY 21 with meaningful competition in 1962.

Muncey's President's Cup victory stretched his win streak to an unheard of seven in a row., which had started at the previous year's Potomac River classic. The record would stand until 1979 when Bill would win nine consecutive races with the ATLAS VAN LINES "Blue Blaster."

MISS CENTURY 21 had now won 15 straight heats, three each in the initial five races of 1962. Not until Dean Chenoweth's 20-in-a-row triumph with MISS BUDWEISER in 1980 would this performance be overshadowed.

Muncey's team had also finished an unbelievable 55 consecutive heats, beginning with Heat 1-A at Lake Chelan in 1960. The boat had traveled 912 competitive miles without a breakdown.

All good things must come to an end. And, for MISS CENTURY 21, it came at the end of a tow rope on Lake Tahoe in the final race of the season.

Drawn into Heat 1-B of the Harrah's Tahoe Regatta, Muncey squared off against the host boat, TAHOE MISS, with Chuck Thompson loaded for bear. Muncey's old rival grabbed the lead and pulled away. Bill found himself in second-place, leading MISS BARDAHL, but losing ground to TAHOE MISS.

Then, the inevitable happened. MISS CENTURY 21 went dead in the water and posted its first DNF since 1959, felled by a broken crankshaft.

The World's Fair team withdrew from the remaining action. MISS BARDAHL, probably the second fastest boat in the country, became the only Unlimited hydroplane besides MISS CENTURY 21 to win a High Points race during 1962.

$ BILL and Rex Manchester, after a dismal season, finished second and managed to tie the "Green Dragon" and Ron Musson on points that day, after TAHOE MISS failed to start in the Final Heat.

Clearly, MISS BARDAHL won at Lake Tahoe only because MISS CENTURY 21 lost. Muncey's boat was obviously in a class by itself. Almost from Day One, the C-21 had been assured of an unprecedented third straight National High Point Championship.

The 1962 season would mark the first of Muncey's three near-perfect years (together with 1972 and 1978) when Bill would almost totally dominate the competitive action and win every race on the calender but one.

In 1962, he grabbed five trophies out of six; in both 1972 and 1978, he won six out of a possible seven races.

Four previous champions had also lost only one major event in their otherwise flawless campaigns at recognized races. These were Danny Foster in 1947 with MISS PEPS V, Bill Cantrell in 1949 with MY SWEETIE, and Chuck Thompson in both 1951 and 1952 with MISS PEPSI.

But no one--not even the great Muncey--has ever won everything 100 percent during a given year.

Bill came the closest to perfection when he won the last two races of 1978 and the first seven races of 1979 with ATLAS VAN LINES--a performance that clearly was Muncey at his best.

Hopefully, no hydroplane will ever dominate a season as completely as MISS CENTURY 21 did in 1962. In the words of David Greene, "Perhaps the reason for the C-21's dominance was her rivals' recession from their previous performance records. Although, during the 1961/1962 off-season, no other team had tested to the extent that MISS CENTURY 21 had."

If any boat was capable of running with C-21, they weren't running long enough to make a difference. The U-60's off-day at Lake Tahoe not withstanding, the 1962 campaign belonged to MISS CENTURY 21 outright. Because, all year long, no one appeared on the horizon that could be counted on to give Muncey a race.

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Copyright 2002 by Fred Farley.
For reprint rights to this book, contact the author at <fredf@hotmail.com>

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