of Boats remembered
for his drive, hard work
and his talent for enjoying life
(July 2003) What Elvis was to rock-and-roll, Bernie
Little was to boat racing.
For 40 years, Little championed Unlimited hydroplane racing, becoming
the winningest owner in the sports history with his Anheuser-Busch-sponsored
Miss Budweiser team. From 1963 to 2002, Littles team
captured 134 victories plus 22 Unlimited hydroplane world and national
championships. The King of Boats, as Little was known, died
on April 25, 2003, but his legacy in the world of Unlimited hydroplane
racing lives on.
Well never replace his character, his emotion,
his exuberance and his anger, said veteran Miss Bud
driver Dave Villwock during a June 17 media teleconference. But
hopefully the future will be an extension and, in fact, a part of his
Born in McComb, Ohio, on Oct. 7, 1925, Littles formative years
were no indication of his future success. The son of a grocer whose
business suffered through the Great Depression, Little made it through
the eighth grade in school before economic necessity cut his education
short. Little went to work doing various odd jobs, and in 1943 at age
17 he met and married Jane Cunningham. Shortly after the marriage, Little
joined the U.S. Navy and served in World War II. After the war, Little
and his wife settled in Florida.
Hydroplane Racing Career
Little acquires first hydroplane boat,
the four-seat Tempo.
1963: Littles first season in Unlimited hydroplane
racing, running Tempo.
1964: Littles first year with Miss Budweiser,
sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.
1966: Little captures first victory with
1969: Little wins first Gold Cup and National High Points
Championship with Miss Budweiser.
1970: Littles Miss Bud-weiser, driven
by Dean Chenoweth, wins its first Madison Regatta.
1977: Littles boats, Miss Budweiser and
Anheuser-Busch Natural Light, take first and
second place at the Madison Regatta.
1985: Little and crew chief Jeff Neff introduc
e the first enclosed cockpit unlimited
hydroplane, the Bubble Bud.
1986: Little converts Miss Budweiser to
Lycoming turbine power; first to use F-16
1994: Little honored with Horatio Alger
Award & honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
degree (Missouri Valley College)
2000: Little & friend Gary Garbrecht form
Hydro-Prop, Inc. to administer Unlimited
hydroplane racing in the future; Littles Miss Budweiser
wins six of seven races on schedule.
2002: Littles 134th and final Miss Budweiser
race victory at the 2002 General Motors Cup
on Seattles Lake Washington.
Budweiser Madison Regatta victories:
1970, 1977, 1980-81, 1983, 1987, 1989,
1992-94, 1997-98, 2000.
American Power Boat Association (APBA)
Gold Cup titles: 1969-70, 1973, 1980-81, 1989-90, 1992-93,
1995, 1997-98, 2002.
Miss Budweiser Driver Victories (1966-2002):
Dave Villwock (30), 1997-02
Dean Chenoweth (23), 1970-82
Jim Kropfeld (22), 1983-1989
Chip Hanauer (22), 1992-95
Tom DEath (12), 1988-1990
Mickey Remund (6), 1975-77
Bill Sterett (5), 1968-1969
Howie Benns (3), 1974
Scott Pierce (3), 1991
Bill Brow (2), 1966
Mark Evans (2), 1996
Mike Thomas (1), 1967
Ron Snyder (1), 1978
Mike Hanson (1), 1994
Mark Weber (1), 1997
Littles determination and keen business sense resulted
in his success in aircraft and transportation sales in the Sunshine
State. His love of adventure and aviation also led to an exciting career
as a stunt pilot with the All-Miami Air Show.
In 1962, Littles interests turned toward Unlimited hydroplanes.
That year, he traded his cabin cruiser for his first race boat, the
four-seat Tempo. With that, Little was hooked, and in 1963
he entered the boat racing sport on a limited basis.
At that time, a chance meeting with Anheuser-Busch magnate August Busch
III provided an unexpected opportunity for Little. The two met when
Busch chartered a plane from Little for a trip to the Bahamas, said
APBA Unlimited hydroplane historian Fred Farley.
Bernie had just acquired his Unlimited hydroplane, which Busch
happened to see, said Farley, who resides in Milton, Ky. He
ended up taking Busch for a ride, and the rest, as they say, is
The two men quickly became friends, and Busch arranged for his company
to back Littles race boat, beginning the longest and most successful
sponsorship in history.
With financial support from Anheuser-Busch, Littles Miss
Budweiser quickly moved to the forefront of Unlimited hydroplane
racing. The team captured its first victory in 1966 and by 1969 had
garnered its first Gold Cup and National High Points Championship.
The following year, the Miss Budweiser, driven by Dean Chenoweth,
won its first Madison Regatta. Since then, Littles Miss
Bud has captured 12 additional Madison Regatta victories.
Past Regatta president (1980, 1984) Jack Lemm remembered Littles
presence in Madison throughout the years. He and I were pretty
good friends, and I always looked forward to seeing him every year,
Although Little traveled the full race circuit with the team, many locals
say that the Madison venue had a special place in his heart. He
always thought that Madison was one of the best of all the race sites,
said last years Regatta president Tony Steinhardt. He loved
to bring his family here.
Denny Jackson, a three-time Regatta president (1989, 1994, 1999), agreed.
I think he genuinely liked (Madison), said Jackson of Milton,
I think this is one of the race sites they could come to and kind
of let their hair down a little bit, Jackson said about Little
and his family, who usually traveled with him.
by Don Ward
Budweiser driver Dave Villwock.
Steinhardt, who in addition to being a past Regatta president
managed the Miss Madison team for several years, also remembered Little
for his kindness and generosity. Steinhardt said his race team sometimes
borrowed parts from Little when his community-sponsored team was low
Whenever I needed a part, I could just ask Bernie and he would
give us what he could, Steinhardt said.
And when the Madison Regatta faced lean years, it was Little who helped
make sure that Anheuser-Busch came through with sponsorship. If
it wasnt for Bernie and Budweiser, a couple of years ago we would
have had a difficult time, said Steinhardt, who asked for Littles
financial assistance to stage the Madison race.
Lemm also recalled Littles support. He helped us several
times, said Lemm. Hed get us another $10,000, $15000
or $20,000, which helped a lot at different times. He always came through
for us when we were down and out.
For some, the Madison Regatta will seem a little different this year
without Littles powerful presence. I really dont think,
for me, personally, the Regatta will be the same without Bernie being
around, said Jackson.
But despite the loss of a patriarch and icon, the Miss Budweiser
Unlimited hydroplane team will return to Madison on its full-circuit
tour this year. In May, the team announced that Littles youngest
son, Joe Little, would take over ownership responsibilities.
Dad put the procedures and processes in place so that the team
could continue, even when he was no longer able to run things,
said Little during a May teleconference.
by Don Ward
and Jane Little at the
2000 Madison Regatta.
I cant be my dad, Little continued.
I can only be myself. My goal is to provide the best leadership,
direction and support to the team so we can continue to win races and
show value to our great sponsor, Anheuser-Busch.
Joe Little, 45, is also the president of Bernie Little Distributors,
a Florida Anheuser-Busch distributorship, and the vice president of
Dave Villwock, who has been racing Unlimited hydroplanes since 1992,
will continue this year as team driver and manager. According to Villwock,
the team will be ready for top competition this season.
This Budweiser team is here to compete. Bernie Little never taught
us how to play defense, and Joe Little is working from the same playbook,
so we wont, Villwock said during the May teleconference.
Every heat and every race will be run with the goal of victory.
We want to win, pure and simple. Villwock has captured 30 wins
for the Miss Budweiser team since he began driving for Little in 1997.
He has won three Madison Regatta titles and survived a blowover on the
Ohio River a few years ago.
Villwock and the U-1 Miss Budweiser team will face defending
Madison Regatta champion Nate Brown, driver of the U-16 Miss Elam Plus,
on the July 4-6 race weekend. It will be the teams 40th consecutive
appearance in the annual southeastern Indiana Unlimited hydroplane competition.
We cant replace Bernie, but he wouldnt want us walking
around looking at our feet and kicking rocks, Villwock said.
He would want us to go out and be all we can be, and thats
what we are going to do this season.
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