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Dominant Force : In Unlimited Hydroplane Competition, When You Say Hanauer and Miss Budweiser, You’ve Said It All

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unlimited hydroplane driving champion Chip Hanauer apparently never heard baseball legend Satchel Paige’s advice: “Never look back, someone may be gaining on you.”

Hanauer says he keeps looking back--and they are gaining on him.

The record books of the Unlimited Racing Commission don’t bear him out, and that is something the veteran driver from Seattle finds most frustrating.

Hanauer, 38, won seven of nine races last year. The only two he lost, he flipped his Miss Budweiser and did not run in the finals.

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This year, he has won seven of eight. The only one he didn’t win, he was disqualified before the start for hitting another boat.

“Sometimes box scores don’t tell the whole story,” Hanauer said Friday after setting a course record, a lap at 169.988 m.p.h., in qualifying the Bud boat for Sunday’s Texaco Star Mart Cup over the saltwater Mission Bay course. The former record of 169.802 was set last year by Hanauer.

“As a driver, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that we have had this success when the competition is greater than it has ever been,” he said. “But sometimes the crew feels it’s not fair to have people say, ‘Oh well, the Bud won again, what’s new?’ when they’ve worked so hard and know what we’ve been facing.

“The Winston Eagle has been in a position to win nearly every race, the Kellogg (Frosted Flakes) boat has shown the biggest improvement I’ve seen since I became involved with unlimiteds. Either of them could have won the last race at Seattle.”

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Mark Tate, driving the Winston Eagle, had won all three heats--including one heads-up against Miss Budweiser, and had twice set speed records for the Lake Washington course. Mike Hanson, in the Kellogg’s boat, had also beaten Hanauer and set a competition lap record.

“We’ve had to win from a lot of different positions this year,” Hanauer said. “Seattle was one of our most creative. We had a bad time qualifying and had to start in Lane 5, on the far outside. When you’re out there, your view is obstructed by the rooster tails of the inside boats.

“We were running second to Mark in the Winston boat when his boat got loose and blew over. In the record book, it looks like another easy win for Miss Bud, but it was far from it.”

The blowover was the first for Tate since he became an unlimited driver four years ago. Films of the accident show that the 6,000-pound, 30-foot boat was airborne about 5 1/2 seconds while flying 700 feet upside down. The boat was destroyed. The roll cage, which helped save the driver’s life, had to be cut in three places so he could be removed from the wreckage--but Tate escaped with minor injuries.

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Tate is now in a new Winston Eagle, built since the Seattle crash, but he is in an old uniform. The team transporter was broken into and among the items stolen were his driving suit, gloves and goggles.

“It was too late to order a new suit, so we had to get an old uniform of mine from the Race Rock Motor City Diner, a sports memorabilia bar in Detroit,” Tate said. “An old Winston Eagle hangs from the ceiling there, and they have a mannequin dressed up like Mark Tate. We got the uniform out of the case, and that’s what I’m wearing.”

Hanauer knows all about blow-overs. One he had on Mission Bay last year cost him what would probably have been a record fifth victory in the event.

“I was going too slow for flying, but too fast for driving,” Hanauer said. “It was in the first corner of the first heat, and I had never felt better about my boat. One second I thought I had everything in hand and the next thing I remember, I was upside down.”

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Dave Willwock, an upset winner in the Coors Dry boat after Hanauer’s accident, has also been the victim of a blowover. Willwock’s 1993 boat, Miss Circus Circus, flipped during the Columbia Cup at Tri Cities, Wash., and the boat was destroyed. Willwock was not injured, but he has no boat in San Diego this weekend.

“The window between being stable and unstable is so much smaller than it used to be, because of the advanced aerodynamics and the higher speeds,” Hanauer said. “The designers and engineers work constantly on making the boats safer, but trying to build one that is blowover-proof is like trying to build a race car that cannot hit a wall.”

Racing cars is Hanauer’s other passion.

He has one more year on his contract with Bernie Little, owner of the Miss Budweiser team.

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“I’m not looking past 1994,” he said. “I would like to race cars, but there are dozens of guys out there saying the same thing. My contract with Bernie precludes my racing cars after the season starts in April, but I hope to get in some races during the off-season.”

Hanauer drove a Porsche 962 GTP in endurance races this year at Daytona and Sebring and calls racing at Daytona on a team with Dennis Aase and Bobby Carridine “one of the most enjoyable experiences of my racing career.”

“I drove about three hours, mostly at night, and we were running fourth overall about 2 a.m. when a valve stuck,” he said. “It was by far the most powerful car I’d ever driven.

“I was running between 180 and 185 m.p.h. in the dark. It was more an aesthetic experience than a physical one. I can’t even describe what it felt like. I’ve gone 205 (m.p.h.) on the water, but it is a 100% different feeling from being in a car (at speed).”

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Hanauer arrived in San Diego with two boats to qualify for Sunday’s race, but after a propeller broke during Friday’s qualifying at about 175 m.p.h., he is down to one. Both boats were winners, one having won four races this season, the other three.

“We refer to them as the ’87 boat and the ’89 boat,” he said. “We’ll run the ’87 boat the rest of the weekend because it would take a week or longer to repair the prop damage on the other one. It’s fortunate we have the luxury of two boats. The one we’re running is the one that won four races, so we should be in good shape.”


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