Small world between NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson and H1 Unlimited hydroplane racing
Before he was a big-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, before he raced in American Speed Association late model touring cars, and before he drove in the Mickey Thompson off-road series, Jimmie Johnson was a fan of unlimited hydroplane driver Bill Muncey.
In 1979 at the Jack-in-the-Box Regatta on San Diego’s Mission Bay, Bill Muncey, driving the “Atlas Van Lines” struggled all day with engine problems. He narrowly made the winner-take-all final but experienced additional engine problems in the final, going dead-in-the-water on the front stretch.
Back in those days, fans on Mission Bay could wade in the water to experience racing up close. So close, that fans would get wet from the hydroplanes’ roostertails.
According to Don Mock, hydroplane restoration expert from the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum who was wadding in the Mission bay waters in ‘79, Muncey’s boat went dead about 50 feet from the beach. “The wind and wakes from the other boats began nudging the “Atlas Van Lines” toward us on the beach.” He recalls on his blog posting on the H.A.R.M. web site.
Muncey stood on his deck and clapped and cheered as each running boat passed, his “Atlas Van Lines.” His boat drifted even closer to the shore. According to Mock, the excited fans rushed out and surrounded the boat for a closer look and to keep Atlas from running aground.
One of those fans, Gary Johnson, picked up his four year-old son Jimmie Johnson and sat him on the deck of Muncey’s boat.
Fast forward several decades when former H1 Unlimited Hydroplane driver Chip Hanauer came across a photo from the event with the fans surrounding Muncey and his Atlas on Mission Bay.
This is where the world gets small according to Mock.
Hanauer was friends with a crewman for Johnson’s NASCAR team. While Johnson’s crewman was in Seattle, Hanauer gave him a tour of the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum and gave him a copy of a DVD documenting the restoration of the “Atlas Van Lines” hydroplane.
The museum tour and “Atlas Van Lines” restoration news reached Johnson. Johnson recounted a story when he was four or five years-old when his dad sat him on the deck Muncey’s boat after Muncey’s went dead-in-the water in San Diego.
When Johnson’s recount of the day got back to Hanauer, he immediately sent Johnson the photo of Muncey. According to Mock, when Johnson received the photo he was “shocked to see he and his dad sitting near the back of the boat.” Now that’s a small world.
Mock recounts in his blog that Hanauer has talked to Johnson about driving the boat and Johnson is said to love the idea.
To read Don Mock’s blog check it out at www.thunderboats.org