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Chip HANAUER : VS. : Jim KROPFELD : Through Them, the Rivalry of Their Mentors Lives On

Times Staff Writer

Bill Muncey vs. Dean Chenoweth. Atlas Van Lines vs. Miss Budweiser.

There were some fierce hydroplane races between those intense rivals in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

Muncey was the American Power Boat Assn. national champion in 1972, ’76, ’78 and ’79 and is the all-time leading unlimited hydroplane racer with 62 victories. Chenoweth was the national champion in 1970, ’71, ’80 and ’81 and is the second all-time leading winner with 25 victories.

Muncey was killed in a hydroplane race in Acapulco in 1981, and the next year his protege, Chip Hanauer, began racing Atlas Van Lines. In 1985, Hanauer switched to Miller American and won his third APBA national championship in four years.

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“I knew Bill respected Chip as a driver and as a person,” said Fran Muncey of San Diego, widow of Bill Muncey and owner of the Lucero-Muncey team for which Hanauer races. “I knew that if Bill had retired and chosen someone to take his place, it would have been Chip.”

Chenoweth was killed in a race in 1982, and shortly after that Jim Kropfeld began racing Miss Budweiser. In 1984, the one year in the past four that Hanauer did not win the racing title, Kropfeld won.

“Jim was the natural choice to take over Miss Budweiser,” Hanauer said. “He is an extremely talented driver.”

That brings us to the rivalry of the ‘80s.

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Hanauer vs. Kropfeld. Miller American vs. Miss Budweiser. Hanauer has 23 career victories in eight professional seasons to lead all active racers. Kropfeld has 14 victories in five seasons.

“Going against Jim is like playing the Boston Celtics,” Hanauer said. “You know they (Kropfeld and his crew) will always be there and you have to respect them.”

And so it should come as no surprise that the two are again battling for the championship going into into this weekend’s Miller High Life Thunderboat Regatta on Mission Bay. The Regatta begins with qualifying Friday. There will be heats Saturday and the final race is Sunday afternoon. Hanauer has a 569-point lead, which is not that much considering that 400 points are awarded to the winner of each of the three heats.

Kropfeld has won the past two races in San Diego. Hanauer won the one before that and has the course record of 127.986 miles per hour, set in 1983.

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In the seven races run this year, Hanauer has won five--including his fifth straight prestigious Gold Cup--and Kropfeld two.

Get the picture? These guys dominate their sport.

“Chip’s always there and I’m there,” Kropfeld said. “I know he is going to be there. Even though I can’t see him in a race, I know he’s there.”

Honestly, Hanauer and Kropfeld do not compete in match races. Most races have 10 to 12 competitors.

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“Going back to 1982, it’s been kind of Jim and I,” Hanauer said. “Another team--the 7-Eleven team--has the potential, but they never really realized it. . . . A couple of times Jim and I have joked that it would be nice to slam heads against someone else.”

Their statistics are close, but their personalities are quite different.

“Chip is a smarter driver and a student of the sport,” Fran Muncey said. “Jim is more a seat of the pants driver.”

Their pre-racing jobs tell a lot about their personalities. Hanauer taught emotionally disturbed children at Port Townsend Junior High School in Washington. Kropfeld still owns a muffler shop in Cincinnati.

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“Jim tends to have a more emotional and volatile personality,” said Hanauer.

Emotional? Kropfeld just wants to have some fun.

“I’m not as intense about everything as Chip is,” said Kropfeld, who drove hydroplanes as a hobby from 1964 until he turned professional in 1982. “I still kind of approach it as a fun thing. I like to go out with the guys, have a beer, roast some corn, go dancing. I really don’t get quite as serious as Chip does on race day. . . .

“I think he gets a little too serious. But this is his profession. It’s how he makes a living. If I were fired tomorrow, I’d still have an income. It seems like Chip doesn’t have a lot of fun until race day is over with.”

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Hanauer may not be a party person, but he has the makings of a romantic and a poet.

In the 1986 summer issue of Nautical Quarterly, Hanauer said: “I’m still a romantic about motor racing. I enjoy being surrounded by racing sights, sounds and smells--the ambience of racing. I can just be sitting near the trailer thinking to myself how much I like it. And people just love to be in the pit area watching the mechanics work.”

Both racers attribute their success and dominance to their mechanics. It is a combination of their talents, the work of their crews, dollars provided by sponsors and their hydroplanes that have made them such a dynamic duo.

“Look at the piece of equipment as the people who created it,” Hanauer said. “Performance is a reflection of their minds and dedication. If one piece of equipment is better, it’s because their minds are better and they’ve worked harder.”

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Having the two most experienced crews gives Hanauer and Kropfeld a big edge.

“It would be great if all boats in the pit had a real good chance of winning,” Hanauer said. “But it’s an imperfect world and imperfect sports world. I mean, it would be nice if the Seattle Mariners had a chance of winning.”

Hanauer and Kropfeld downplay their abilities and guts, but in the same way that a manager can’t hit for his players, a crew can’t race for its driver.

Once the final race starts and the six hydroplanes going upward of 150 m.p.h. explode onto the course and start jockeying for position, Hanauer and Kropfeld are the ones in control.

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“When I get in that boat, I change,” said Kropfeld. “Fortunately, it kind of comes natural to me. I’ve built boats. What I do on the water is a natural instinct. It’s a sixth sense.”

And he uses common sense.

A 20-year participant in this sport has one chance in seven of being killed. That’s just a number. Hanauer and Kropfeld have ghosts who come to mind when they take to the water.

“Dean (Chenoweth) and Bill (Muncey) went at it tooth and nail, even in the qualifying,” Kropfeld said. “I need the competition out there. It’s hard for me to get up and go out there fast just for the qualifying.”

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Hanauer remembers competing in the race in which Muncey died. He also remembers standing alone on the beach in front of his hotel in Acapulco watching a plane carry Muncey’s body back to San Diego.

“If he hadn’t let emotion take completely over, he’d have won that race--he’d have beaten the Budweiser,” said Hanauer in the article in Nautical Quarterly.

Beating the Budweiser has been handed down from mentor to pupil.


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