• One of unlimited hydroplane racing’s most successful owners
• Succeeded late husband as team owner in 1981
• First spouses to be inducted separately
• Seven consecutive Gold Cup titles (1981-88)
• 24 victories (1981-88)
• Oversaw transition from piston-power to turbines
Before her husband, 1989 Inductee Bill Muncey, perished in a 1981 racing accident in Acapulco, he asked Fran, should anything happen to him, to continue the race team. She not only fulfilled his wish, but carried on with astonishing success. Over the next seven years she amassed one of the greatest records as a team owner in the sport’s history. She hired 1995 inductee Chip Hanauer to drive after seeing him at her late husband’s funeral and Jim Lucero, one of the sport’s winningest crew chiefs, to build a new hull. From 1981-88, Fran Muncey led Bill Muncey Enterprises to 24 wins and a record seven straight Gold Cups, in the process successfully transitioning the organization from piston-powered to turbine boats. "Fran Muncey, above any other person, showed the most leadership when she stepped up," a grateful Hanauer told the Seattle Times in 1999. When Muncey sold her team at the end of 1998, it marked the first time in three decades the Muncey name was not part of the sport it became synonymous with.
By Andrew Muntz
On a September day in 1969, Fran Norman agreed to lend a hand giving tours through the pit area at the Gold Cup race in San Diego. She was to simply keep people from wandering away, which suited her fine—she knew nothing about hydroplanes.
As her tour group passed the bright-red Miss U.S., she saw Jim McKay of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” interviewing someone, but she had no idea who the guy was. That someone also noticed her.
He was 1989 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America inductee Bill Muncey, the most famous driver in the sport. And, when the recently divorced Muncey saw Norman, he suddenly forgot McKay’s question. As soon as the interview was over, he asked somebody to track her down and get her name.
As they say, the rest is history. The two arranged a date, had a whirlwind courtship, and within several months were married. Muncey purchased his own race team in 1976, won many more races and national titles, then while leading a race in Acapulco, Mexico, in October 1981, his Atlas Van Lines blew over backwards and he was killed.
Muncey had asked his wife that should he die, he’d like her to continue racing—so she did. She ordered a new boat built and contacted a young driver that her husband often mentioned: Chip Hanauer, who would become a 1995 inductee to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. “Being asked to drive the legendary Atlas Van Lines, under those circumstances following the greatest driver in the sport’s history, by his wife, was humbling and overwhelming,” Hanauer recalls.
Through the next seven seasons, a span of time where the boats evolved from piston engines to turbine, Fran Muncey’s race teams were among the most accomplished in the sport. She won three national championships and a total of 24 races, placing her eighth on the list of most successful owners in history. Her boats also won seven straight Gold Cups, giving her a total that is the second-best of all time.
During her career, she operated three different hydroplanes that carried the names Atlas Van Lines, Miller American, Miller High Life, and Miss Circus Circus. And, through it all, Chip Hanauer remained in the cockpit.
“As a person, Fran is kind, compassionate, hard-working, and courageous,” Hanauer says. He adds that as a team owner, she was also all of those things—and fiercely competitive. Yet, her compassionate side often showed through strongest.
“Once when the boat was not performing well, there was great intensity and pressure,” he remembers. “Fran grabbed me by my shoulders just before I climbed into the boat and said, ‘Chip, this isn’t really that important. Winning isn’t critical. Just come back to us.’”
One memory stands out for Hanauer above the others—the 1982 Gold Cup, where he came from behind to pass Miss Budweiser and won in convincing fashion. “Winning the Gold Cup in Detroit [Bill Muncey’s hometown], less than a year after Bill’s death, in dramatic fashion, is one of the happiest days in my life,” he says. “I hope it is for Fran and everyone involved in that moment in time.”
Andrew Muntz is the author of “At the Ragged Edge,” a biography of inductees Gar Wood and Bill Muncey. He is editor of the Unlimited NewsJournal and serves on the board of H1 Unlimited.
MSHFA 1995 Inductee Chip Hanauer
(Mark Hicks Westside Photography)