Story by Brad Haskin from here: http://thunderboats.ning.com/page/the-circus-circus-story
Perhaps the greatest tale of "Riches-to-Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags" in the hydroplane world is that of Circus Circus Enterprises. Rarely in the history of the sport has a racing team experienced such a dynamic swing of fortunes as the Las Vegas based Hotel/Casino. And rarely has a sponsor left it's fans in such a state of limbo.
In the summer of 1978, Ed Fisher, a prominent R/C boat racer from Seattle hooked up with Bill Bennett, the CEO of Circus Circus Enterprises. Bennett was also a radio control freak, and took immediate interest in R/C hydro racing. Things quickly progressed, and with the help of some fellow Seattle based R/C people, a decision was made to go boat racing for real in the Unlimited class. Bernie Little had the Anhauser Busch Natural Light boat (the former Weisfields/Olympia Beer hull) up for sale, and a deal was soon struck. The U-31 team debuted at the season-ending San Diego race that fall with a young Seattle driver named Steve Reynolds at the wheel. Reynolds had come to prominence in the limited ranks driving a boat named "White Lightning". With Reynolds came other prominent crew members, including Jim Harvey and Danny Heye. The Circus team produced a strong third place showing at San Diego, and the stage was set for bigger things.
For 1979 a new Dave Knowlen designed, pink & white cabover hull was developed. With the extremely fan-and-media-friendly Reynolds at the wheel, the Circus team showed it's muscle early in the season. With the new Budweiser and Squire Shop hulls still under construction, the U -31 team was second only to Bill Muncey's dominant "Blue Blaster" Atlas Van Lines for most of the Eastern swing. Several second place finishes kept the team in high point contention all season. A sure victory at Seattle was taken away when Reynolds jumped the gun, but the team found redemption with a win at San Diego to close out the season. The upstart team finished second place in the high points, and things looked promising for the team heading into the new decade. Ed Fisher had gained much of his R/C hydro success using a 4-point hull design. It entailed a running surface under the long nose and the ram wing with sponsons at the rear of the hull. Fisher had so much success with the craft that he convinced Bill Bennett to build a full size Unlimited in the same fashion. The majority of the hydroplane world shook their heads in disbelief and collectively warned that it would not work, but the Circus team started the 1980 season with the '79 boat running until the new "rocket ship" could be completed. While '79 had been somewhat of a Cinderella season, 1980 turned into a year of turmoil. Changes to the primary hull resulted in an unstable ride, and many blown engines and thrown propellers resulted in DNF's. As the season went on, the owners concentrated more of their efforts in the new 4-point boat, while driver and crew were left to struggle with the primary hull. The future of the Circus Circus team, said the management, lay strictly in the futuristic looking experimental hull. Tension and discontent was rising amongst the crew, and when the tiny new 4-point made a less than stellar debut at the San Diego race, most of the crew including Reynolds and Harvey either quit or were fired.
From the last race of the 1980 season, through the 1981 season, the Circus team management operated somewhat of a "revolving door" policy for their crew. Instead of listening to the suggestions of the experts on how to change the hull, the team insisted on firing anyone who showed any kind of discontent, and hiring only people who "believed" in the concept of the project. Over the winter Ron Armstrong was hired to drive the boat, which had been extensively modified and beefed up for the '81 season.
With a level of optimism rivaling that of the Atlas and Budweiser teams, the Circus team burst upon the '81 season with their U-31 4-point "rocket ship"....and promptly went nowhere. The boat pushed water every which way, was difficult to get on plane, and at speed could barely muster 90 mph. As the boat failed to qualify at more and more races, more personnel changes were made. Weight distribution was changed, sponson angles were changed, the engine was mounted differently, but nothing would work. At qualifying for the Gold Cup in Seattle, Armstrong was nearly thrown out when the boat violently hooked halfway down the front-stretch during a qualifying attempt. Footage of that incident would grace the opening of the ESPN broadcasts for many years.
At the second to last race of the season in San Diego, where the boat had inauspiciously debuted the year before, Armstrong finally qualified the Circus Circus at just above minimum qualifying speed. In the race itself, the boat finished one heat. In last place. After the race, the disgraced Circus team threw in the towel and closed it's doors. Though Circus Circus would continue in the sport for the next couple of years as sponsor of the San Diego regatta, the team disappeared as quickly as it had formed.