By Fred Farley
ABRA Unlimited Historian
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.
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 Governor’s Cup at Madison and third in the Admiral’s
Cup at Jacksonville, Fla.
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 Governor’s Cup.
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 Madison’s open cockpit and suffered painful – but
not permanent – injuries.
Milner had one of his best seasons in 1975 with Bob Fendler’s 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 Weisfield’s in National
Points. Lincoln Thrift also took second in the Kentucky Governor’s Cup at
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 Thrift’s 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 Benning’s
Myr Sheet Metal in 1976 and Mike Wolfbauer’s Savair’s Probe in 1978 but did not
land another fulltime Unlimited ride until rehired by the Miss Madison team in late-
After sitting out the 1982 campaign, Milner joined forces with owner Jerry
Schoenith as driver of the Renautl/Jeep/elf 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 Molinari’s Louie’s 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 wasn’t 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
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.
|1983 Owner of
|French auto manufacture Renault, sponsor's the new U-3 owned by Jerry Schoenith,
of Detroit MI and Driven by E. Milner Irvin III, from South Florida.
|Click on the World
Miss Renault elf first
final heat. Thank you