GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Unlimited hydroplanes returned to Guntersville, Alabama, for the first time in nearly 50 years on Saturday and for everybody involved, it was an unqualified success.
The U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison and the U-27 Wiggins Racing entry — along with the replica U-55 Gale V — each took turns running laps on the 2-mile Lake Guntersville course in advance of a full points race next year.
But the boats didn’t run in anonymity. While a few dozen fans watched from the pit area, nearly a thousand more packed the levee on the back stretch to watch the thunderboats roar by at close to 200 mph.
It was all part of a strong response from the locals that had the H1 teams already looking forward to next year’s event.
“We’re just excited to be here and we can’t wait to pass onto everybody else in the hydroplane community how great of a place this will be to race at next year,” said HomeStreet driver Jimmy Shane. “There’s a buzz in this town about Unlimited hydroplanes. Everywhere you go, people are talking about it.”
The Unlimited hydroplanes don’t have a long history on Lake Guntersville, running just five races at the site in the 1960s. But what Guntersville lacks in longevity, it more than makes up for in importance.
It was on the lake that Buddy Byers steered the Miss Madison to its first-ever win, claiming the Dixie Cup in 1965. Ron Musson and Bill Muncey won the first two races at the site, in 1963 and 1964, respectively, and Bill Sterrett drove the Miss Budweiser to victory in the last Dixie Cup in 1969.
Lake Guntersville was also the site of Roy Duby’s historic run when he set the mile straightaway speed record of 200.419 mph on April 17, 1962 aboard the Miss U.S. I, a mark stood for 38 years before Russ Wicks beat it by 5 mph aboard the Miss Freei in 2000.
If onboard speedometers are accurate, both Shane and Phipps challenged that record during their test runs — albeit on an unsanctioned course and without a special setup for a record assault. Shane topped his HomeStreet Bank at 196 mph in the straightaways while Phipps hit 194.
Other than a few smaller class races in the 1980s, the lake has been largely quiet since. But that hasn’t stopped locals from dreaming of a time when the big boats would return to the site.