Remembering Bill Muncey, Mr. Unlimited
By David Speer
..He is still the yardstick. Sixteen years have passed since Bill Muncey crashed and died while leading a race on a picturesque but primitive lagoon in Acapulco. Only 52, he was hydroplane racing's unquestioned superstar. Not one has yet to achieve or surpass his total of 62 career victories, an accomplishment of consummate technique and long experience.
..Noted designer Ted Jones, manager of Unlimited racing's first totally professional team, took a chance on Muncey's promise. He had known Muncey before he drove Great Lakes and thought his personality and garrulousness would make him a good "corporate driver."
..."Frankly, I can't think of anything more dangerous, more 'awe-full,' than an attempt a world record on water," said Muncey. "Where there is no friction, no brakes. Just an airborne sliver of wood, a raging, straining, monster engine - - and you."
.."For as long as I can remember we have had a continuing and seemingly never-ending hassle in our sport with regard to rights-of-way. There may have been some drivers who drove too hard into the corners and then slid into my lane. I can't be blamed if they get washed down by my roostertail."
..."I do know that I'm the most unpopular driver in the game," he said. "When anyone else goes dead in the water, the crowd groans. When it happens to me, they cheer."
..Kit Muncey had married a rich man's son. But, seeing that she'd have to settle for small-time fame in boat racing, she lost interest. Her affections strayed, and she asked for a divorce. Until that moment Bill Muncey assumed they were living the happy life . . . His divorce barely final, Muncey approached an attractive, 26-year-old divorcee, Fran Norman, who was attending the 1969 Gold Cup race in San Diego with friends . . . She traveled to Seattle, meeting his friends and visiting some of her family who lived nearby. He kissed her for the first time, saying "I've decided I'm going to pursue this to a conclusion."
..The marriage seemed to have jump-started Muncey's career. His new wife had made racing fun again. "She just amused the hell out of him," recalled Jim Hendrick, long-time Unlimited television broadcaster and family friend. "He loved her simplicity and honesty. He really liked that."
..Startling everyone, Bill and Fran Muncey bought Dave Heerensperger's Pay 'n Pak, which had won three national crowns and 16 races. The price was $250,000 for three hulls, trucks, trailers and 30 Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. O.H. Frisbie, president of Atlas Van Lines, guaranteed the loan and upped his sponsorship fee to cover the payments.
..Atlas Van Lines (the Blue Blaster) won its first race, two national titles and ultimately captured 24 victories -- more than any previous Unlimited. The boat delivered Muncey's sixth Gold Cup, pushing him past speed king Gar Wood's record.
..It took Muncey a long time to get to the pinnacle. Eventually he earned a $125,000 annual salary as a vice-president of marketing for Atlas Van Lines, plus profits from the racing team. He was comfortable, glib, enthusiastic, optimistic and mostly happy. The cockiness (and sometimes scatological) mouth of youth had mellowed. He was an articulate spokesman for the sport, a dancer of words, dispensing ebullient modifiers to the media and candid adjectives to his critics.
..Fran Muncey never worried about Bill. Girls would lift up their tops and want him to autograph their breasts. He would get embarrassed. His idea of a good time was eating an ice cream cone.
.."Will God come along and say, 'Hey, Bill, it's time that maybe you consider something else to do with your Sunday afternoons?" he once said. "I don't know that he'll do that. But when I finally go out of the sport, they'll more than likely take me out in a basket -- and it will be just as well. I've had a helluva life."
(ED. NOTE--Longtime hydro journalist David Speer has written a fairly expansive, seven-page article in the September 1997 issue of Powerboat. These are but a few selected excerpts from the piece, which deserves the attention of any serious unlimited fan. I suggest you buy the magazine and let Powerboat know that you appreciate their work as the only glossy, professionally published publication to regularly detail the exploits of the "big boats.")
(excerpts from Powerboat article, September 1997)
[originally reprinted in the UHRA Thunder Letter]
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