Seattle, Washington, is the epicenter of the boat racing world and the city is home to the Hydroplane and Race Boat Museum.
A whole lot of Guntersville racing history is included in the museum. The museum is a not-for-profit organization, David Williams the executive director said. The difference in this museum and other museums is that the Hyrdroplane Museum is not a typical, quiet museum. Most museums will not allow you to touch anything and for some reason everyone is always so quiet.
At the Hydroplane Museum, they want you to touch everything and be interactive with them. He said that on the Friday of the recent H1 testing in Washington state, they had two of the museum’s boats on the water. Most all of the boats at the museum work and go out to exhibitions.
The Miss Budweiser that they brought to Guntersville last year did not run, but they have run it in several other locations. He mentioned that they have ran in Buffalo, New York and Honolulu, Hawaii, and many other places in between. Miss Budweiser was a force to be reckoned with in the racing world in the 1960s and won races in Guntersville.
The museum’s philosophy is that storing the boats is not good enough to show the public just how amazing the boats are, Williams said. If they did not get to run them, then they would also lose the technology and knowledge that make the boats popular. The museum made the decision to run the boats in exhibitions.
“It takes a boat load of money to run them,” Williams said. “It is really expensive to do it.”
The museum has been in existence since 1988 and in its current location now since 2001. The way they are able to keep the museum in business is because of donations from the fans.
“People often ask who owns the museum,” Williams said, “and it is owned by the fans. We hold these boats in trust for the fans.”
He said that anyone who donates money to the museum has ownership in it. They are owned by the sport. The oldest boat in their possession is from 1908 and the newest is from 2010. Over the years, they have restored about 18 hydroplanes to running conditions. There are nine on display at the museum right now and two are under restoration.
All of the work is done by volunteers and the way that they are motivated is by a ride in the boat once the hard labor is done. They have to put in at least 200 hours before they are allowed to have that ride. The boats are as safe as a boat going 130 miles per hour on water can be, Williams said. That is not the top speed for the boats, that is just the top speed for the riders.
In Miss Budweiser’s time, she was clocked at doing 217 mph. The Lake Guntersville record was 200 miles per hour set by a boat named the Miss US, Williams said. He believes that the title was held from 1962 until the mid-2000s.
In hydroplane racing, the championship driver gets the Gold Cup. He said that it is equivalent to the Indy Cup or winning the Daytona 500. At the museum, they have several boats on display that won more than one championship. From where he was standing during a recent tour, he pointed out the boats that had two Gold Cups. He said that the Slo-Mo-Shun V won it twice in 1953 and 1954; the Miss Budweiser won it twice in 1969 and 1970, Atlas Van Lines won it twice. There were ten Gold Cup victors on display at the museum.
One boat currently under restoration is Oh Boy Oberto, a beef jerky product. He said that this company has been a part of the competition since 1975.
For many years, they sponsored a team out of Madison, but now they are sponsoring the Wiggins team out of Alabama. The Wiggins team will not be racing in the H1 race this year because of a bad accident they had in Washington last year, but they will be bringing a Grand Prix boat to Guntersville.
“The boat that we are currently working on would be the great, great, great, great grandfather of Wiggins’ new boat,” Williams said.
The second boat they are working on is from 1979 called the Squire Shop and it was driven by Chip Hanauer. He is one of the most successful hydroplane racers of all time. Williams knows he has 11 Gold Cups and he believes is a 10-time national championship winner. The boat that they are working on is the first one that Hanauer won in.
He attempted to put everything in NASCAR terms to make it a littler easier to understand. He said that Hanauer would be similar to Jimmie Johnson.
Williams told a story about legendary hydroplane racer Bill Muncey. He died in a crash in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1981, but prior to that he was racing in San Diego. This race was held the second week of September around 1978-79 and NASCAR’s Jimmy Johnson was in attendance for his tenth birthday.
Because he was a fan of the hydroplanes, Johnson asked to go watch the races for his birthday. His father took him to the race, and they were watching in an area that is considered the backstretch. The boat broke down and started drifting in towards the shore. Johnson and his dad were watching the boat drifting in and knew that they had to do something to keep it form running to shore. They waded out to the boat and because Johnson was too short, his father put him on the back of the boat.
Williams said then you fast-forward several years later and Chip Hanauer has gone to work for Hendrick Motorsports. He was working with upcoming rookie drivers and showing them the proper way to be in public. Johnson and Hanauer told him the story and Williams remembered a photo of that day. Johnson was wearing a yellow T-shirt and a blue hat.
The boats from museum will not be able to make it to Guntersville this year because of the cost. Williams said that he would love to come back to Guntersville. He would love to get the Miss Budweiser going again and get her on Lake Guntersville. Miss Budweiser was at last year’s race as a static display and was quite popular with fans.
During the course of a year, they have between 70 to 100 volunteers. Each boat has their own crew. Williams said that each boat has a crew chief, a driver and 8-9 crew members. Most of the volunteers come on Tuesdays and Thursdays along with Saturday mornings. There are typically around 30 to 40 people there a night.
The funding for the museum comes from a variety of places. He said that there are about 650 members and each member pays $100 for their membership. They do a gala fundraiser and auction that brings in about $100,000, around 3 running exhibitions which brings in between $20,000, sell merchandise online that brings in $40,000 and the rest is from donations.
He said that they operate on a budget of about $500,000 a year and they have been doing it for about 25 years.