"Proud Mary" Blown Fuel Hydro - The Restoration


Mary Rife was drag boat racing's answer to her land counterpart, Shirley Muldowney. The only difference is that not one female followed in Mary's shoes - at least in Blown Fuel Hydros.

This page will chronicle the restoration of a drag boat that was one of the most famous of its breed from 1973 to 1985... "Proud Mary". The 1973 Howard hydro was sold in 1985 and found in 2004. It is currently being restored to its 1973 configuration with was a blown fuel 392 Chrysler hemi.

Mary Rife probably raced drag boats longer (without an accident) than anyone who ever competed in the sport. From 1969 to 1985 she drove a flatbottom, Unblown Gas Hydro, Blown Gas Hydro (below) and finally the big dog - a Blown Fuel Hydro.


Back when I started racing in 1968, I had a flat bottom that I ran in the 85 to 90 miles per hour class. Around 1971 my friend Scotty McCally was telling me that Bob Hendricks was going to sell his Blown Gas Hydro (Color Me Gone) without the engine... which we renamed "Gone". It was a baby Sanger Hydro.

I bought the Hydro and put my 427 Ford Tunnel Port in it and ran unblown gas Hydro. First time out in the boat I was only 3 miles a hour from the record of that class held by the boat called War Bonnet that was driven by Jim Van Dyke.

I took the 427 Ford out of the Hydro and sold it to my friend Scotty (who found it in the first place) and he put it in a 56 Ford Pick-up truck. After a while he sold that engine to some one in San Diego. After a lot of years Scotty bought that engine back again and put in in his garage with all his collector Fords. I then put this Blown Chevy in the Hydro and ran Blown Gas for one season. That Sanger was a little on the light side, the Boat wanted to fly.

Then in 1973 my late husband and I bought the Howard Hull and put the PROUD MARY together that took about 4 months. I raced top fuel for 12 years.

In 1990 I married my friend Scotty, which i had not seen him in about 8 years, I was so surprise to go in his garage and see that 427 ford tunnel port sitting in the corner. So I got my engine back that my late husband put together 20 years earlier . Small World.
Commentary from Mary McCally



Mary had a career best Top Speed of 206.42 and Low ET of 6.11. Respectable numbers in anybody's book as it wasn't until the 1990's that the "capsule TF hydros" started running really BIG times. Her crew over the years consisted of names like her late husband, Dwight (back bone of this boat), Norm Rife, Paul Schavrien, Danny Ramilo. Her engines were built by Jo Pat Williams (392), Jim Wright (of Keith Black and Forgedtrue Piston fame) built the 426.



In August of 2004 Mary received phone call from a friend in California (Joey "Spike" Amorelli). saying that he had seen the boat on the cover of a Boat Trader Magazine. Without a second thought, she and husband Scotty McCally went to California and bought it back. They are restoring it just as it was in 1973. Here is the boat when they got it home.


Here is a mock-up 392 fiberglass block being used to refit the hull that had been set up for a late model hemi.


A new motor plate had to be machined.



Driveline parts ready for fitting.




Mike Kuhl and Paul Schavrien are putting together a healthy 392 that will be installed in the finished hull which is due at the paint shop in May, 2005.


While the real engine is being built, Scotty keeps busy in the shop mocking up the mounts and other parts they will need to get the boat restored.







This is the hull being prepped for paint. Obviously there was a lot of glass work to do especially where part of the deck was cut out for a capsule. Mary was real glad they saved the piece they cut out!








One of the best painters in Texas, Dickie Davenport preps the hull for paint.




Davenport showing Mary how strong the deck is.



04-27-05 the boat was painted and read for wet sanding and a buff out. Then it will be time to start to putting the parts back in the boat to completion.







As the project moves forward, the trailer is being made ready including this slick graphic job.




Lettering is done....



Just 3 weeks before the CHRR the blown fuel 392 is lowered into the hull. How cool is going to be when it rolls into Bakersfield - the FIRST Cackleboat!






Mary's long career was highlighted by:

Winning the NDBA Nationals at Fire Bird in 1978.


Appearing on a TV show with Billie Jean King: "Women In Sports"


And her first win in Top Fuel Hydro, holding the trophy with one hand and her new three week old Granddaughter with the other.


However, the highlight most remember was In 1975 when the most famous race car driver in the world literally put his life in the hands of a woman. At the Long Beach Marine Stadium, Mario Andretti climbed into a Jerry-rigged second seat in Mary's Blown Fuel Hydro and let the queen of boat racing take him for a 160+ MPH pass on the water. When it was all said and done a gracious Andretti thanked Mary and said he'd NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!


Mary (left) and Mario get settled in for their big adventure.


Mary and Mario at 170




In the late 1970's "Proud Mary" was fitted with a Keith Black 426 hemi and rear wing. Here is a shot of its first outing with a wing. The boat wanted to fly - not the effect the wing was suppose to have! They figured out that the exhaust was hitting the wing so the boat was fitted with a new set of headers and the problem was solved.


Although pretty, thankfully this is not the configuration it is being restored to.



DONE! October 22-24, 2005 Mary and Scotty made the tow to a NDBA race at Lake Ming in Bakersfield where the engine was fired for the first time. It sounded great so the put it in the water and Mary made a short "burnout". They have been invited back for next years race and are planning to attend the California Hot Rod Reunion as the first "cackle boat".




02-18-06 at Tyler TX. Mary McCally displayed her newly restored top fuel hydro. Tyler is her home town and this was her first show with the boat. She and her husband won best display. The boat is ready to run with its blown 392 by Mike Kuhl.


Due to health problems with Scotty the 2006 CHRR debut was postponed to 2007. That was covered on Cacklefest.com soon after the event was completed.


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