Chip Hanauer, the national unlimited hydroplane champion from Seattle, has retired at the peak of his career, and he is not happy about it.
"It's sad to contemplate retirement at 36, but the sport is drying up, and when Circus Circus pulled out it caught me by surprise," Hanauer said. "On the other hand, it also afforded me a window of opportunity to step away. As tenuous as the sport has become, it didn't seem like a good place to invest the next five or 10 years of my life, so I decided to leave the sport while I'm still happy, healthy and on top."
Hanauer won his fifth national championship three weeks ago on Lake Mead when he drove Circus Circus to its fourth victory in the final five races of powerboat racing's premier 11-race series. Less than a week later, owners of the Circus Circus hotel/casino in Las Vegas announced they were dropping out of the sport.
"I thought some sponsor would pick up the team intact and we'd go on with a different name," Hanauer said, "but when Steve Woomer bought it for his Winston Eagle program and decided to keep his own personnel, I had a gut feeling that it was time to get out myself."
Jim Kropfeld, driver of the Winston Eagle last season, will drive Circus Circus next year.
"Frankly, it was hard for me to understand why someone would buy a winning team and then not keep it together. Our team had been assembled only 48 months, and we brought home a national championship in our second year. We jelled together perfectly. I was very happy and had another year on my contract and was looking forward to defending the championship. Then came the shocker, when Circus Circus folded its tent."
Hanauer, who won seven Gold Cups and five national championships in the past nine years, had several offers to remain in the sport. One came from Bernie Little, owner of the Miss Budweiser boat and the strongest force in the sport. Hanauer beat Little's boat--driven by Tom D'Eath--for the 1990 championship in the final race.
"Bernie made me a very generous offer, and I knew if I went with him I would have the best equipment possible, but the future of the sport--or rather the lack of a future--helped me make the decision I did. Basically, there are only two professional teams left after Winston Eagle merged with Circus Circus and the Mr. Pringles boat (owned by Bill Wurster with George Woods as driver) quit.
"At a time when the growth of motorsports was never stronger, our sport is weaker than ever. I would have had a totally different attitude about accepting another ride if there were enough competitive teams to assure the sport a good growth curve."
Hanauer, who drove a Toyota Celica in a pro-celebrity race last April at Long Beach, said he hopes to get into auto racing.
"I know it's a longshot, but I would like to start a new career. I will be at Laguna Seca this weekend for the Indy car race, and I plan to talk with the Toyota people about driving in the Firehawk showroom stock series next year. It would be an entry level approach and give me an idea if I had any future in it. I received encouragement from my instructors at Long Beach, and racing cars had always been in the back of my mind, so I think I'll give it a chance.
"Actually, it's like when I began racing boats. I grabbed the first opportunity afforded me and hung on. Of course, I was only 9 years old then, but at 36 I find myself in the same predicament. The skills are different (between boat racing and auto racing) in the manipulation of the vehicle, but the mentality and the mental discipline needed are exactly the same."
Hanauer, an honors graduate of Washington State, drove his first unlimited hydroplane in 1976 and won his first race in 1979. He has since won at least one race every year, and he has won either the Gold Cup or the national championship--or both--every year since 1982. In 1986 he equaled the most prestigious record in powerboat racing when he won his fifth consecutive Gold Cup to share the record with the legendary Gar Wood, who won from 1917 to 1921. Then he won two more to put the record at seven.
INDY CARS--The Champion Spark Plug 300, final race of the CART Indy car season, will be contested Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway on the Monterey Peninsula. It will serve as a farewell for several teams and drivers. Al Unser Jr. has clinched the $400,000 championship bonus and Eddie Cheever rookie of the year, but the battle for the second-place bonus of $250,000 between Michael Andretti and Rick Mears is on the line. Andretti has an 11-point margin with 20 points going to the race winner.
It will be the final race for Porsche, which is quitting Indy cars to concentrate on Formula One. John Andretti, one of the Porsche drivers, will drive Jim Hall's Pennzoil Lola-Chevrolet next season. Teo Fabi, the other Porsche driver, is undecided about 1991. Danny Sullivan, who won an Indy 500 and a PPG Cup driver championship for Roger Penske, will end his Penske association.