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HYDROPLANE RACING : Pierce Is Fastest of the Fastest in Beating Tate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The new era in unlimited hydroplane competition produced the fastest racing in the history of the sport Sunday as Scott Pierce and Miss Budweiser won their duel with Mark Tate and Winston Eagle in the Budweiser Cup on Mission Bay before an estimated 100,000.

When five-time national champion Chip Hanauer and Jim Kropfeld retired last year and Tom D’Eath was injured last May, it removed three legendary drivers from the rolls and left the 1991 season to virtually untried talent.

Pierce, who replaced D’Eath, drove the fastest five laps ever when he averaged 147.807 m.p.h. in the final over the 2.5-mile Bill Muncey Memorial Course.

Earlier in the day, Tate, 31, in only his second year as an unlimited driver, set a one-lap record of 155.682 m.p.h. and a three-lap record of 151.207 during the heats.

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All three old records (143.511 for five laps, 150.874 for three and 154.573 for one) were set here last year by Hanauer in Miss Circus Circus. Following that race, Hanauer’s boat was sold to Steve Woomer, owner of the Winston Eagle Team, and it is the boat Tate drove Sunday.

“I don’t want anyone to think I’m ready to compare Mark and myself with Hanauer and Kropfeld, but I’m proud of the way this so-called ‘new’ group of drivers is performing,” Pierce said. “We’ve driven faster than anyone ever did, and we’ve done it safely. I think that speaks a lot for us.”

Tate clinched the season driver’s championship with his second-place finish but felt let down at losing the finals after dominating most of the heats.

“It’s nice to be the champion, and I’ll probably enjoy it more later, but I wanted to win today,” Tate said. “Our motor was down on horsepower, and it showed in the corners. Scott just outpowered us in every corner.”

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The two favorites raced side by side, their huge roostertails obscuring the trailing boats, from the starting line to the first turn in the five-lap final. Winston Eagle edged in front slightly, only to have Miss Budweiser take a two to three boat-length lead coming out of the second corner.

“When I caught the Bud boat going down the back straight, I felt pretty good and thought we had a real chance at winning, but once we came out of the two turns on the lower half of the course, he had really pulled way,” Tate said. “From then on, we never got real close.”

The victory was the ninth for the Miss Budweiser team at San Diego, dating to 1956, the third year of racing on Mission Bay, when Bill Brow was the winner.

Miss Budweiser also came close to clinching the boat championship with one race remaining, Oct. 17 at Honolulu. The only way it could lose to Winston Eagle is if Miss Budweiser failed to finish.

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