The Atlas Van Lines was a boat that changed unlimited hydroplane racing forever. It helped rebuild the career of a great driver, and ultimately took the life of that very same driver, Bill Muncey.
By the late 1970s, Bill Muncey’s career had hit a “rough patch.” The Atlas Van Lines team had been fielding uncompetitive equipment for its great driver. But in 1977 when the team finished its new “cabover” design, where the driver sits ahead of the engine, everything changed! They dominated the sport for years. The boat, which had a top speed of 180 mph, earned the nickname “The Blue Blaster.” It notched up 24 race victories over four years, including three Gold Cups and two national championships.
Then the Budweiser team countered by building its own new boat, powered by engines that were 600 cubic inches larger than the Atlas. Bill, once again, found himself at a huge disadvantage.
So he drove like a man possessed, trying everything he could think of to overcome this huge horsepower disadvantage. And in 1981, while racing in Acapulco, Mexico, it all ended with tragic consequences. Bill's “Blue Blaster” took off from the water like an airplane and landed upside down, killing Bill instantly.
Now thirty-plus years later, the restoration of "The Blue Blaster" is nearly complete. The boat will run again, in tribute to the great Bill Muncey, at the annual Seattle Seafair Unlimited hydroplane races, and I'm going to drive it. It's a fitting tribute to perhaps the greatest powerboat racer of all time, and a distinct honor to be asked to drive this historical boat on this historical occasion. Here's a video about the event:
And if you want more background, watch this video about the rebuilding of a classic, and why this one is so special to me.