What do you do with the shattered remains of the greatest race boat ever built?
"The last time this boat was in the water, it was upside down, broken in half, she was a mangled wreck, and Bill was being raced to a hospital. People were literally on their knees crying. That is no way for the greatest boat in the history of our sport to be remembered," said David Williams, Executive Director at the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum.
October 18, 1981 was a tragic day in the world of hydroplane racing. Bill Muncey, widely regarded as the greatest racer in the history of the sport, flipped his Atlas Van Lines boat while traveling 175 miles per hour at the World Championship race in Acapulco, Mexico and lost his life. The boat’s remnants sat untouched for 30 years.
In an effort to help reverse this tragic memory, the famed boat made its return to the water at Seafair this past July 31 through August 2 in Seattle, WA. The Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Kent, WA., spent four years and approximately $100,000 to restore the Blue Blaster to its original condition.
“The boat was patched back together but was never really fully repaired. It existed in a world of back rooms and warehouses for several decades before the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum decided that she should be restored to running condition and run in honor of Bill,” said Jim Mesick, Development Director at the Museum.
The first step in the restoration process was to remove the decking from the boat so that the interior of the hull could be inspected. The condition of the hull would largely determine the scope and cost of the project. Restoration veteran Don Mock and his team were met with good news in January 2010: the boat was in remarkable condition considering the crash and three decades of sitting idle. At that point the team began setting a budget and raising funds, and after years of hard work the Blue Blaster was ready to return to the water.
"It was a wonderful privilege to witness the restoration process and to have a relationship with the people who gave over 4 years of their lives to make this happen," said Chip Hanuaer. "I wish Bill could have come to the shop, as I did regularly, to watch the boat come back to life. I wish he got to know these great people who did this out of the vast respect for Bill and the legacy he built in that boat."
Seafair is Seattle's summer festival dating back to 1950. Hundreds of thousands of people join in the month-long celebration, and boat races have always been a major component.
“Hydro fans in the Seattle area are a bit spoiled. Seafair has always been a major stop on the race circuit, plus the museum is located here and Chip Hanauer is a local hero," said Matt Kupka, Director of Sales and Marketing for Atlas Agent Ed's Moving & Storage (0823).
Chip Hanauer stepped out of the broadcast booth to drive the Blue Blaster throughout the weekend. As the third-winningest hydroplane racer of all-time, Chip was the obvious choice, as Bill Muncey hand-picked him to be his replacement. Chip drove for Fran Muncey and Atlas Van Lines for nine years from 1982-1990.
Chip Hanauer inspects the boat and pulls away from the dock as the Blue Blaster returns to the water for the first time since 1981. Hop over to www.theboatguy.com to read Chip's blog post about getting back inside the famed Atlas Van Lines boat.
“I have no doubt that Bill would have been moved to tears, had he been able to come and stand on that dock, to hear and see that beautiful blue boat move on to the race course,” Chip said. “Wait, what am I saying? He wouldn't have watched the boat move away from the dock. He would have yanked me out of there in two seconds, jumped in and did what he always did, which was to make the Blue Blaster sing and dance like nobody else could have.”
After silencing critics who said he was too old, with five wins in 1976 in his Atlas Van Lines boat, Bill drove the Blue Blaster from 1977 to 1981, winning 24 of 43 races and two championships. His final win came at the Thunder on the Ohio in Evansville, IN, in 1981. One of the first cabover style designs—placing the driver in front of the engine instead of behind it—it was the winningest unlimited hydroplane of all time until 2011.
“The fame of Bill Muncey and the Blue Blaster was much broader than I had anticipated. For our agency and family, the event was particularly special. My father, Walt, was very active with the Atlas hydroplane back in the 1970s and 1980s, but passed away earlier this year before having a chance to see the final restoration. It was an honor to represent him. I am very grateful to the museum, Chip Hanauer, and the Muncey family for including us on this special occasion,” said Matt.
Fran Muncey christens the newly refurbished Atlas hydroplane with a pour of champagne before it's let loose in the water.
This summer, the Blue Blaster went out on the water one final time. But this time when she came back to the dock, she was right side up, the sun was shining, fans were cheering and clapping, and if there are any tears, they were tears of joy.