Milner Irvin story
former Miss Madison driver
left his name in the record books
nearly returned to the cockpit
in the late 1980s but retired
ABRA Unlimited Historian
(June 27, 2008) Milner Irvin III made his
Unlimited debut in 1974 at the wheel of the community owned Miss Madison
(U-6). Milner was a last-minute addition to the team when 1973 driver
Tom Sheehy departed to accept another assignment.
courtesy of Hydroplane Raceboat Museum
Irvin piloted the Miss Renault
in 1983, including this race at Seattles
Seafair. The boats are from top Atlas
Van Lines, Griffon Budweiser, Squire Shop, American Speedy Printing
and Miss Renault.
Irvin qualified as an Unlimited driver at the Champion
Spark Plug Regatta in Miami and nearly won the race! He
finished third overall and defeated the winners, Howie Benns and Miss
Budweiser, in the Final Heat.
A veteran of the Florida Limited circuit, Milner started as the younger
half of a father-and-son inboard racing team. In the beginning, his
father would drive and he was the crewman. In later years, their positions
were reversed with the son as the driver and the father as the crewman.
At the end of his rookie Unlimited year, Irvin occupied fourth place
in a field of 27 drivers in National High Points. In addition to his
Miami performance, Milner finished third in the Indiana Governors
Cup at Madison and third in the Admirals Cup at Jacksonville,
Other noteworthy performances with the U-6 team were a second in the
1978 Tri-Cities (Wash.) Columbia Cup and a second in the 1981 Indiana
He drove two different versions of the Miss Madison. These were the
1972 Gale Enterprises hull that raced until 1977 and the former 1973
Pay n Pak hull, which was acquired by the City of Madison in 1978.
Irvin drove Miss Madison off and on for a decade. In 1981 at Acapulco,
Mexico, Milner risked his own life when he spun Miss Madison at high
speed to avoid running over the fatally injured Bill Muncey, driver
of Atlas Van Lines.
He hooked to the right with a craft engineered to turn to the left.
Irvin was thrown violently around in the Miss Madisons open cockpit
and suffered painful but not permanent injuries.
Milner had one of his best seasons in 1975 with Bob Fendlers Lincoln
Thrift (U-55). The boat had failed the year before with Mickey Remund
as driver. But with Irvin, the U-55 ended up third behind Pay n
Pak and Weisfields in National Points. Lincoln Thrift also took
second in the Kentucky Governors Cup at Owensboro.
The 1975 Tri-Cities Gold Cup was a heartbreaker for Milner. He guided
the turbo-Allison-powered cabover hull to first-place in Heats 1A and
3B and took second in the finale. In Heat 2B, Irvin was leading by a
wide margin and in line for 400 first-place points when
he conked out three-quarters of a lap from the checkered flag. Lincoln
Thrift nevertheless finished third in total points with 1,100, compared
to Pay n Pak with 1,425 and Miss U.S. with 1,225.
At Seattle in 1975, Milner was sprinting toward the first turn of the
Final Heat when he encountered a roostertail full in the face from Muncey
in Atlas Van Lines and went dead in the water. The Lincoln Thrifts
windshield was knocked off and Irvin suffered an eye injury. He restarted
after the leader had finished lap 3 and completed the race. Upon returning
to the pits, Milner collapsed in the cockpit.
An outraged Fendler demanded that Muncey be disqualified and suspended
from racing. But Chief Referee Bill Newton ruled that no foul had occurred.
The Lincoln Thrift team retired after 1975. Irvin briefly handled Gene
Bennings Myr Sheet Metal in 1976 and Mike Wolfbauers Savairs
Probe in 1978 but did not land another fulltime Unlimited ride until
rehired by the Miss Madison team in late-season 1978.
After sitting out the 1982 campaign, Milner joined forces
with owner Jerry Schoenith as driver of the AMC-sponsored Miss Renault.
This was a happy association for Irvin that lasted for two years. It
was with Miss Renault that Milner made his claim to fame.
At Houston in 1983, he won the World Championship Race, sanctioned by
the Union of International Motorboating. Boats from all over the world
showed up to compete. These included Renato Molinaris Louies
on the Lake from Italy and Miss Bayswater Bulk from Australia. In all,
18 boats attended, making it the largest field for an Unlimited gathering
in a number of years.
Miss Renault with its turbocharged Allison engine wasnt the fastest
boat in the race. But it was the most reliable.
There was a lot of equipment damage that weekend. Atlas Van Lines fell
victim to a hole in its sponson; Miss Budweiser blew a supercharger.
When the checkered flag dropped in the winner-take-all Final Heat, it
was Irvin first, followed by Jimbo McConnell in Miss USA second and
Molinari third. No one else finished. It may not have been the way the
Miss Renault team wanted to win by attrition. But it was
an important victory for them, nonetheless.
Only seldom have World Championship Races been run for the Unlimited
Class, which makes each race extra special. The tradition dates back
to 1938. That was when the Italian Count Theo Rossi won the title with
his Isotta-Fraschini-powered Alagi.
Irvin drove his last race in 1987 with Frank Kenney Toyota-Volvo. A
few years later, Bob Hughes, the board chairman of Miss Madison Inc.,
approached Milner about returning to the U-6 team once again.
Irvin was sorely tempted. He wrote down a list of the reasons for returning
to competition and those opposed. The reasons opposed outnumbered the
reasons for returning. So Milner said thanks, but no thanks, and called
it a career.
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