[at Seattle] setting a record of 112.500 mph, then went dead in the second, requiring a tow to the pits.
“Those decrying this ‘humbled finish for a proud champion’ are not boat racers. Racers accept the good breaks with the bad. They recognize that winning may be the goal of racing but competing is its major function.
“Compete the THRIFTWAY camp did, unsparingly, constantly, totally. And in compiling their three-boat, two-major-accident competitive history, the THRIFTWAY camp not only endured but prevailed to set records of speed and mechanical excellence that would be hard to beat.”
To be sure, Bill Muncey would some day again rule the Unlimited world. But for the moment, he was an unemployed hydroplane driver with an uncertain future, although his credentials were second to none.
Since landing his first Unlimited ride in 1950, Muncey had achieved the status of a winner. He would remain so, throughout the rich years--as well as the lean years--that were to follow.
His tenure with the rough-riding NOTRE DAME ended midway through the 1964 season after a falling out with the crew chief Bud Meldrum. Bill nevertheless scored an upset victory over the National Champion MISS BARDAHL at Guntersville, Alabama, with NOTRE DAME.
The MISS U.S. experience from 1965 to 1969 likewise proved unsatisfactory with only three victories in five years. According to Muncey, "Simon wouldn't give me enough money for the boat. Then he would turn right around and spend untold thosands, flying in relatives to the races from all over the country."
No one was more affected by the events of June 19, 1966, "Black Sunday," than Bill Muncey. That's when three of racing's finest were lost in two separate accidents at the President's Cup Regatta on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. They were Ron Musson of MISS BARDAHL, Rex Manchester of NOTRE DAME, and Don Wilson of MISS BUDWEISER.
All three had been close friends of Bill Muncey. It was Bill who had recommended that Musson be hired to drive for Ole Bardahl in 1961. Wilson had been Muncey’s roommate in college.
In the dark days that followed “Black Sunday,” Bill pondered the possibility of retirement from racing.
His oldest son, Wil Muncey, Jr., who was 13 at the time, remembers those days vividly: “He realized that to quit now would be like cutting slack when he was needed most. Quitting would have meant debasing the sport that his friends had died enjoying, promoting, supporting, and participating in. He was compelled to make a contribution and to help keep things rolling.
“The sport had suffered a lethal wound and needed to fire back just as hard as before. It was necessary to grieve the loss but to still perform.”
Bill decided to stay with it. But for the rest of his life, not a week would go by that he wouldn’t recall the sad memory of his three friends lost on the Potomac.
Muncey finally got his career back on track in 1970 when he went to work for his old friend Lee Schoenith of Gale Enterprises.
Bill’s best season of racing was arguably the 1972 campaign when he won six out of seven races for Schoenith, sponsored by ATLAS VAN LINES. Muncey won his long-awaited fifth Gold Cup and only broke one Rolls-Royce Merlin engine all year–and even then, he managed to finish the heat in second-place!
The Gold Cup is the Crown Jewel of APBA racing. It's the one prize that every competitor wants to win at least once. Bill won the race eight times (1956-57-61-62-72-77-78-79). This eclipsed the previous record of five victories, set by Gar Wood between 1917 and 1921.
In all, Muncey won 62 races in the Unlimited Class. The first was at Detroit in 1956 with the original MISS THRIFTWAY; the last was at Evansville, Indiana, in 1981 with the "Blue Blaster" ATLAS VAN LINES.
In the post-World War II era, the only driver with more wins than Bill is Dave Villwock who has 65 victories between 1992 and 2011.
How many Unlimited drivers who won races in the 1950s were still winning races in the 1980s? Only Muncey.
Bill reached the end of the Thunderboat trail on October 18, 1981, on Laguna de Coyucca in Mexico. The victim of a "blow-over," Muncey lost his life while maintaining his familiar first-place.
The team that he founded in 1976 continued in racing for another seven years under the leadership of Fran Muncey, Bill’s widow.
Fran hired Bill's hand-picked successor--Chip Hanauer--to replace her late husband in the cockpit. Bill had always told Fran, "If anything ever happens to me, be sure to get the boat to the next race and put a driver in it."
Hanauer picked up right where Bill had left off. Between 1982 and 1988, he won 24 races for the Bill Muncey Industries team, including an incredible seven consecutive Gold Cups.
It is interesting to speculate as to what kind of a post-Acapulco career Bill might have had. He most certainly would have continued as a boat owner and as the sport’s most eloquent ambassador of good will.
It is questionable whether Bill would have continued as a driver. At the time of his death, he was just a few weeks shy of his 53rd birthday.
Bill Muncey’s legacy to the sport is a standard of excellence that will be difficult to surpass.
And it’s possible, in the mind’s eye, to visualize Bill standing up there on the clouds, wearing that cowboy hat and those white-with-blue-trim coveralls, looking down on “his” sport.
He’s saying, “Okay, guys. I served my time. Now, it’s your turn. The potential of boat racing is still unlimited. The future is in your hands. So, let’s shake a leg and get moving. The 5-minute gun has just fired.”
Reprinted from LEGENDS OF THUNDER.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Fred Farley & Ron Harsin.