SI Vault
Alexander Wolff
September 10, 1984
Unlimited hydroplanes, the powerboats that attract hundreds of thousands of fans when they race, have always had two very tidy certainties associated with them. One is that they make a particular sort of ear-splitting noise. Promoters like to refer to it as "thunder," and the vessels themselves as "thunderboats." In fact, the sound is more like what you'd expect a power mower to make while running over a titanium cat. The other distinguishing feature of a hydro has always been that, like the flat stones that skip elegantly across a pond when you throw them just so, there comes a time when they'll simply refuse to go any farther.
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September 10, 1984

Changes Are Stealing Some Of The Thunder, And Risk, Of The Unlimiteds

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The new power plants still have a lot to prove. Atlas won the prestigious Gold Cup in Tri-Cities, Wash, on July 29, and Miss Tosti Asti, though affected by salt water in the opener in Miami, has turned in several respectable runs. But the other turbine boat on the circuit, Lite All-Star, which is driven by the ill-named Tom D'Eath, has finished just four heats all season. The Lite All-Stars themselves might describe the turbines' year thusly: Raced great, less thrilling; raced great, less thrilling.

Still, even Bernie Little, Miss Budweiser's owner, is talking turbine, even though his Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered hull has led the circuit most of this season. He's considering running two boats as Miss Bud next year—his heavier. Rolls-driven hull in the salt-and rough-water events in the East, and a lissome turbine on the mostly glassy stretches out West.

Platooning boats would cost scads of dollars, which Little has, and it's something the rules, as currently written, would permit. "I'd love to whip everyone with Griffons," Little says. "It's in my blood. But we're not going to be so stupid as not to look into turbines. Just beat us one too many times and we're going to join in."

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