All of those involved in the sport of H1 Unlimited hydroplane racing are saddened to hear the news of the passing of Billy Schumacher, one of boat racing’s greatest champions. He died unexpectedly this morning at 80 years of age.
Schumacher was a champion at every level of boat racing in which he competed. Born in Seattle in October 1942, Schumacher was introduced to water sports at a very early age—thanks to his father’s involvement in the sport of water skiing. He claimed that he first started driving ski boats when he was only 6 years old, and just two years later he entered his first competitive boat race, driving an outboard-powered boat on Seattle’s Green Lake. That began a career in outboards and later inboards that resulted in numerous national titles in a variety of classes. He also was a regular contestant in the annual Sammamish Slough races beginning in the mid-1950s.
His first ride in an unlimited hydroplane came in 1961 when, as still a teenager, he was asked to drive a boat named Cutie Radio in the Diamond Cup in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Two weeks later he drove a boat named Miss Tool Crib in Seattle and placed second in a semi-feature event called the Seafair Queen’s Trophy. He then drove $ Bill in 1963 and ’64.
His big break came in 1967 when he was hired by Ole Bardahl to drive the new Miss Bardahl. That experience resulted in a total of 10 race victories, including two APBA Gold Cups, and two national championships. After driving PARCO O-Ring Miss in 1970, he was then hired to handle the controls of the Pride of Pay ‘n Pak in 1972 and 1973, where he added three more victories to his total.
Schumacher took a break from unlimited hydroplane racing to participate in outboard marathon competition then was back in 1974 when he joined Leslie Rosenberg’s team as the driver of Valu-Mart in 1974. With that same team, he drove Weisfield’s in 1975 and wrapped up his unlimited driving career in 1976 in the cockpit of Olympia Beer.
In 2006, he and his wife, Jane, returned to the sport as owners. In that first season in his new role, he led the Miss Beacon Plumbing to three race victories, including the APBA Gold Cup, with Jean Theoret doing the driving. His involvement as an owner ended in 2014.
During his unlimited career, Schumacher won a total of 17 races as a driver, which places him ninth in the all-time list, and he had four victories as an owner. He won the APBA Gold Cup twice as a driver and once as an owner, and he won three national driving championships.
Billy was inducted into the the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum’s Hall of Champions in 2016.