SI Vault
Coles Phinizy
August 24, 1981
That could be the motto of Dean Chenoweth, unlimited hydroplane champion and a man with unlimited courage
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 24, 1981

Crash And Carry On

That could be the motto of Dean Chenoweth, unlimited hydroplane champion and a man with unlimited courage

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

So once again he went back through the swinging doors. The new wonderboat was not ready until the fourth race of 1979, and for the balance of the season suffered many of the ills that such novel, high-revving machines are heir to. Chenoweth didn't win a race, and only five heats of 17. The most that could be said for the super-new interplanetary-missilized Miss Bud was that she showed great promise. Then, Little decided to give his wonderboat a go at the straightaway record before the next season began.

It wasn't a slapdash effort. Miss Bud was specifically modified for a straightaway try. On the morning of Oct. 23 on Lake Washington, Chenoweth made three two-way runs through the one-mile time trap, increasing his speed in 10 mph increments, from approximately 175 to 195. Shortly after noon the water conditions deteriorated, then improved until by midafternoon there was only a three-knot wind dappling the surface. Chenoweth took off shortly before 3:30. During her long run-in, on past the one-mile green warning marker, the trim of Miss Bud looked good. Just as the boat entered the time trap, Chenoweth glanced at his speedometer. It read 220. That is the last he remembers.

Miss Bud possibly struck a submerged object. In the first photographs showing the bottom as the boat flew through the air, both the propeller and the rudder are missing. In a half-looping roll the boat reached a height of about 20 feet. As she descended, Chenoweth was thrown out. He flew about 100 feet through the air and skipped 50 more across the water before settling in, fortunately faceup. The Coast Guard rescuers say he was conscious. "I felt the impact of the water. That is all," Chenoweth says. "If they say I was conscious, it may have been my mind subconsciously trying to find out if my body was still alive. Until I came to in the hospital, I had no idea what had happened." In addition to a concussion, he had eight broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and lung and cardiac contusions. Dr. Kaj Johansen, his surgeon in the intensive care unit of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, told him that but for his good physical condition, it might have been the end.

Little had another Miss Budweiser built, almost identical to the one that had been demolished, and last year she proved to be what his first had been expected to be. But on Aug. 10, just before the seventh race of the circuit, in Seattle, she came to an equally spectacular end. Chenoweth qualified easily for that race, but then went back out on the course to try to set a qualifying-lap record. As he headed for the starting line at nearly 190 mph the welds of the rudder brackets failed. Miss Bud swapped ends, rolling as she did. Chenoweth was thrown out at the start of the second roll. He traveled through the air and skipped across the water about as far as he had on his record-attempt disaster on a different part of Lake Washington, but this time he was conscious. "I remember the boat going over my head," he says. "It was upside down and I could read the name 'Budweiser' as it sailed off into the blue."

For the second time in nine months he ended up at Harborview Medical under the intensive care of Dr. Johansen—this time with six broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade and lung hemorrhages.

By the last race of the season, in September in San Diego, Chenoweth had recovered, but where would he get a boat? Some years earlier Little had bought a race-worthy old hull called Notre Dame to use promotionally. After having her painted in the bronze and red colors of the Budweiser racing teams, he had displayed her in shopping centers and other public places as Miss Budweiser. Notre Dame had indeed raced (with little success) under a variety of names, such as Miss Valvoline, Miss Cott Beverages, Miss Technicolor and Miss Northwest Tank Service, but never as a Miss Bud. But, what the hell, how would the yokels in a shopping center ever know?

There was one big problem, however. The old girl had no backup engine. Chenoweth needed 600 points to assure a tie with Muncey. Should he go all out, try to get the points fast, before the engine died? Or should he nurse it, hoping for a combination of seconds and thirds that would be enough?

Chenoweth went for it. He won both his heats in San Diego to take the 1980 national driving title with 200 points to spare. As if knowing it had done all that was needed, one minute before the starting gun of the final heat, his engine blew.

This past winter Little had a third Miss Budweiser built, and once again Chenoweth came back. Because of their mutual interest in distance running, Chenoweth had kept in touch with Dr. Johansen. This past spring, before he went to Seattle to test-drive the new Miss Bud, Chenoweth phoned Johansen to say he was coming out. "I'm glad you called," Johansen said. "It will be a pleasure to meet you for once while you are still on your feet."

1 2 3