It was mid 70s and Eatonville had hydroplane fever. George Henley (aka Smiling George) was wracking up wins and securing himself a position as one of the greatest unlimited hydroplane racers of all time.
George started racing boats on Silver Lake as a teenager and already he was becoming a true sportsman and a strong competitor. He built his reputation as the driver of the Record 7, but it wasn’t until he started piloting the low-budget Burien Lady in 1970 and captured the second place Seafair trophy that the public started taking notice.
Seven Wins in 1974
George’s next hydroplane was Bob Fendler’s Lincoln Thrift, then later the Pay ‘N Pak in 1974. That year George Henley made his mark in the hydroplane world and put Eatonville on the map. Reaching speeds of 200 miles-per-hour in the Pay N’ Pak, he won seven titles, including the Gold Cup, which only Bill Muncey had achieved in a single year.
George became the town hero and in August 1974 Eatonville held George Henley Day. There was a parade down Mashell that ended in Glacier Park. There were speeches and trophies and George was presented with a Key to the City from acting Mayor Mike Jordon.
The Eatonville Lions Club donated the George Henley Congeniality and Citizenship Award trophy to the Eatonville High School. Starting with the class of 1975, it would honor the most deserving graduating student.
Back for more in 1975
After that incredible year, George retired and worked at his business — building and selling Hamilton Jet Boats in Tacoma. That didn’t last long. The Pay ‘n Pak team was having a poor season and asked him to come back.
George said in a Dispatch article that is wasn’t just about money, although it would offer some financial security for his family. First there was the challenge of rescuing Pay N Pak’s disastrous season. Second, there was the a loyalty to the old crew and owner Dave Heerensperger, and third Henley’s love of the sport.
Once George stepped up, things improved for the Pay N’ Pak team. He overcame a large point deficit and added five victories that year, including a second consecutive Gold Cup. In 1976 George Henley retired for good.
Gone But Never Forgotten
In 2009 George passed away and left behind his biggest fans, his wife Mary and his children Lori, George and Tom.
The Seattle Times wrote, “From 1970 to ’75, the Eatonville resident won 12 of 34 races. In perhaps his best performance, the 1974 race at Sand Point for the Gold Cup, Henley battled side-by-side with the Miss Budweiser before winning on very rough water.
What they should have added was, “ . . . and the town on Eatonville held it’s breath, as George flew across the water, held down by what seemed like just force of will.”