To the Edge and Beyond

By Jeffrey Bellant March 21, 2023 424
The Atlas Van Lines Turbine preparing to race: Detroit, MI.,1984. The Atlas Van Lines Turbine preparing to race: Detroit, MI.,1984. Photo credit: Larry Wilson

Growing up with a dad who’s a car guy and a race fan, I got pulled along to a lot of activities, from the Woodward Dream Cruise to drag racing and boat racing.

My fondest memory was the 1982 American Power Boat Association Gold Cup hydroplane race, one of the most exciting events I’d ever watched live.

My dad had long been a fan of what was then called Unlimited Hydroplane Boat racing. Back then, these aerodynamic vessels were powered by deafening piston aircraft engines and would hit speeds of 200 mpg in the straightaways and average lap speeds of 125 mph to 140 mph.

1982 Detroit Gold Cup Final Heat.

If it sounds dangerous, let me add a little sidenote. My grandma, like me, was a huge book lover and I remember reading an almanac she had from 1979, I think.

It had a list of professions that made up the top 10 “Worst Insurance Risks.” Well, astronaut was No. 1 and unlimited hydroplane driver was either No. 2 or No.3.

Anyway, during the 1980s and 1990s, my dad and I, along with a large group of family members, would spend one weekend each summer on the Detroit River for the APBA Gold Cup race – the Kentucky Derby of hydroplane racing.

Back in the early 1980s, the event would draw an estimated 800,000 fans – 800,000! – along the Detroit River, between the city of Detroit on the United States side and Windsor, Ontario on the Canadian side.

Truly an international event.

And they partied.

Fans enjoining the racing.


I would literally watch people wheel in kegs of beer on dollies to the stands.

The 1982 race was a special one. It was the first one I attended and this was just me and my dad, before it became a big family event.

The backstory was made for a Hollywood movie

The two heavies at that time were the iconic Miss Budweiser and the Miss Atlas Van Lines.

The two boats had split the last six Gold Cup races going into the 1982 race.

Miss Budweiser was owned by Bernie Little, at the time the largest Budweiser distributer in the country. It was powered by the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, the top of the line engine at the time. The story was that Little tried to buy up every Roll-Royce Griffon to corner the market.

Dean Chenoweth piloted the Miss Budweiser and he was the reigning Gold Cup champion.

Miss Atlas Van Lines, up until the end of 1981, had been piloted by local Detroit legend Bill Muncey, an eight-time Gold Cup Champion.

Ron Snyder behind the wheel aboard the Miss Budweiser, Detroit, MI., 1978.


But during the end of a race in Acapulco the previous October, while traveling at 175 mph, the 52-year-old Muncey flipped his boat and was killed.

With Muncey’s death, his wife, Fran, took over the team.

She named 27-year-old Seattle native Chip Hanauer to helm Miss Atlas Van Lines. Reportedly, he was Muncey’s handpicked successor.

With the stage set, the heavily favored Miss Budweiser, the local favorite Miss Atlas Van Lines and two other boats squared off for the championship heat.

I was 15 years old at the time and it was a thrill. The enormous crowd, the roaring engines and the giant rooster tail spray of water coming off the back of these boats made it a true spectacle.

At the start of the raise, as expected, Chenoweth and Miss Bud took the early lead, up about 10 boat lengths at the start.  It looked like the favorite would cruise to victory.

Chip Hanauer, driver of the Miller High Life Detroit, MI., 1988.

The water was a tad choppy, causing the boats to bounce and skip off the water, like a boy skipping a stone across a pond. (Only it was men in boats traveling between 90- and 200 mph.)

Around the second lap, Hanauer made his move.

Cutting to the inside and hitting the nitrous oxide, Miss Atlas Van Lines started down the Windsor side straightaway and lit up the course. When these boats hit top speed, you can see the rooster tails flatten out, the boat roaring and that’s what Hanauer’s boat looked like.

At several moments, the craft looked like it was just going to take off Top-Gun-style. Watching Miss Atlas Van Lines bouncing along the water, I found myself holding my breath thinking, “This boat is going airborne.”

Then something incredible happened.

Miss Atlas Van Lines started catching up on the venerable Miss Budweiser.

Then, still bouncing and skipping, it caught Miss Budweiser.

Jenny and Dean Chenoweth.

And just went you thought Hanauer would have to lay off or lose his life, he kept the hammer down and passed the mighty Miss Budweiser, and I’m still not sure he was touching the water when he passed.

Once he made the turn, the last couple of laps didn’t matter.

Miss Atlas Van Lines hit the checkered flag and 800,000 people –including me and my dad – went insane!

From that day forward my dad only referred to Chip Hanauer as a “daredevil.”

He just looked plain nuts to me.

After he got to the dock he ran to Fran Muncey, Bill’s widow, and picked her up with a hug.

Later, a Detroit sports reporter asked Hanauer about the race, questioning his audacious nerve, his fearless run.

Not sure of the exact quote, but he talked about the moment and what made him do what he did.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It was Muncey’s hometown and it was the Gold Cup. But yeah, I took that boat to the edge and beyond. I did it and it was absolutely the finest moment of my life.”

And what happened to second-place finisher Dean Chenoweth?

A month later, he would flip Miss Bud in a qualifying round during a race in Columbia, Washington.

Chenoweth died at the age of 44.

‘To the edge and beyond,’ indeed.


For those who want to see Hanauer’s legendary run, check it out Below: 


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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 March 2023 20:25