In the summer of 1999, hydroplane boat racing fans watched with excitement the on-water filming of race action for the movie “Madison” during the Madison Regatta.
While many well-known actors came to town to make the movie, for hardcore boat racing enthusiasts, the real stars were the vintage hydroplanes sailing around the Ohio River with their loud Allison engines blaring away the motorized sounds of yesteryear. Those vintage crafts were painted to portray the original race boats that plied the river in 1971 when Jim McCormick surprised everyone by winning the Gold Cup in the Miss Madison.
Photo above provided; photo below courtesy of Rusty Neff
Randy Mueller poses in 2009 with the 1971 Miss Madison after purchasing it from Dr. Ken Muscatel. The boat is now in covered storage in Puyallup, Wash. The picture below shows the boat in action during its heydey.
A restored boat that raced as Savair’s Mist and owned by the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Kent, Wash., was painted to portray the Miss Madison for the movie. But perhaps little known to the public was that behind the scenes, the original hull of the Miss Madison that won the ’71 Gold Cup was used several times in the movie, mostly in scenes showing a damaged or torn apart racing craft.
After filming in Madison, the boat was hauled to San Diego to film the explosion scene when it portrayed a devastating crash in Detroit. It can be seen in the movie being lifted out of the water after it “exploded” during a race scene filmed there. In another scene, it was towed down Madison’s Main Street to portray the team’s returning from the tragic race. It also appeared in other shots, such as those where the Miss Madison team is working on the boat at the shop.
After the filming of the movie ended in San Diego, the boat sat for a long time in a Los Angeles storage lot owned by the movie company. Dr. Ken Muscatel, an Unlimited hydroplane driver, in October 1998 bought the hull from the City of Madison for $10,000 and eventually had it hauled to his boat shop near Seattle. The money from the sale of the boat was used to pay down the debts owed by the Madison Regatta Inc. For years, the boat sat outside in a lot covered only by a few tarps that often weathered and fell apart.
Miss Madison Hull History
The Miss Madison Inc. racing team has competed with six different boats over the years.
The team started in 1961 with the former Nitrogen, a gift from industrialist Samuel F. DuPont, and raced it until 1963 when it sank in the Detroit river. DuPont then donated his Nitrogen Too, which raced as Miss Madison from 1963-71. This is the hull that won the 1971 Gold Cup and was retired thereafter. It was built by Les Staudacher.
The team then had a new boat built by Gale Enterprises that raced from 1972-77. It was designed by Lee Schoenith and Fred Dube. The team then bought the Ron Jones-designed former Pride of Pay-N-Pak, which it raced from 1978-87.
Beginning in 1988, the Madison team then raced a boat built by Jones. The boat was converted from piston to turbine in 1992.
In the winter of 2002, the team completely overhauled the hull and repainted it. With support from sponsor Oh Boy! Oberto, the team upgraded the boat with a new wing system, cockpit and wider tunnel so it would be faster and closer in design to current Unlimiteds of the day.
Then in 2007, the team hit the water with a newly built Unlimited race boat, courtesy of Oh Boy! Oberto and the Oberto family. Newly hired driver Steve David stepped into the cockpit and delivered victories at Seattle and San Diego to finish second in national high points. He later earned two Madison Regatta titles, in 2010 and 2011 and season championships in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Sources: Miss Madison Inc.’s Bob Hughes and UHRA historian Fred Farley
“It was an amazing boat, but better still, it became a symbol of what people with a lot of talent and a lot of heart and very little money can do if they set their minds to it,” said David Williams, executive director of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum. Williams drove the Savair’s Mist in the movie scenes and is familiar with the Miss Madison story.
“I’d love to see it restored because it deserves to be honored and preserved. It also has been very frustrating over the years to see the museum blamed for all of the awful things that the Madison Movie Production Company did to the boat during the filming.”
One man who learned about the existence of the Miss Madison hull and its deteriorating condition decided to act to save it. Randy Mueller, a retired naval architect and marine engineer living in the Seattle area offered to buy it from Muscatel as early as 2005. Muscatel was not interested in selling at that time, but after a few years passed, he relented and sold the boat to Mueller in April 2009 for an undisclosed price.
“The poor thing has been through the ringer. It was disheartening for me to see it deteriorate in that condition. But I paid a lot more than what I expected.
“It was on the original trailer, which needed work in order to move it. I had to install two new axles, brakes, new tires and one new wheel,” Mueller recalled. He hauled it to a covered storage facility in Puyallup, Wash., in a place well-ventilated and out of the weather.
Mueller is a member of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum with experience in restoring boats. So he seems the perfect candidate for someday returning the old boat to the water. He recently finished a 17 ½-year project to restore a 42-foot cruiser and has worked with other volunteers on restoration projects of vintage hydroplanes at the museum.
“With the Madison Regatta coming up, I just wanted the people of Madison to know that the Miss Madison boat is being protected from the weather now and hopefully someday will be restored to running condition,” said Mueller, 67, in a June 26 telephone interview from his home in Gig Harbor, Wash. That is about 25 miles from the museum, which he hopes will handle the restoration once he can come up with the money to do it.
Mueller estimates it will take two years and $250,000 or more to restore the boat.
“I just have to free up some real estate investments or sell my cruiser to have the money to start the project,” he said.
The Miss Madison hull that Mueller owns is not the original boat the team raced but it is the one that won the 1971 Gold Cup. It was built by Les Staudacher and featured dropped sponsons, which set lower than the top deck.
In its 52-year history of racing, the team had six different boats. It started when Sam Dupont in 1959 gave the City of Madison the Nitrogen boat. When it was destroyed during testing in Detroit in 1963, DuPont gave the city the Nitrogen Too boat. It raced as the Miss Madison beginning in 1963 and was the hull that eventually won the 1971 Gold Cup. It was then retired because the team had built a new boat that first hit the water in 1972 and raced until 1977.
The team then bought the Ron Jones-designed former Pride of Pay-N-Pak, which it raced from 1978-87. Beginning in 1988, the Madison team then raced a boat built by Jones. The boat was converted from piston to turbine in 1992.
In the winter of 2002, the team completely overhauled the hull and repainted it. With support from sponsor Oh Boy! Oberto, the team upgraded the boat with a new wing system, cockpit and wider tunnel so it would be faster and closer in design to current Unlimiteds of the day. Then in 2007, the team hit the water with a newly built Unlimited race boat, courtesy of Oh Boy! Oberto and the Oberto family.
H1 Unlimited Historian Fred Farley, who lives in Milton, Ky., said restoring the 1971 Miss Madison would be reviving history for race fans and Madison residents alike. “When the Miss Madison won the Gold Cup that year, it was a true symbol of civic pride. That day, everyone was a Madisonian, no matter where you were from. To see it run once again on the water would really be something.”
Farley said certain hydroplane race boats stand out and remain historically significant even today. “They were in the right place at the right time with the right crew and the right driver,” he said. “They were boats that when they were out there on the water, the public had a stake in the outcome, and that Miss Madison boat is a perfect example. I wish Mr. Mueller all the success in the world in restoring it.”
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.