Friday, August 7, 2009

HYDROS: Seafair splendor - 2009 Edition

Brenda Jones – Miss KYYX

Whale for Mwah; I still harbour memories of the thrill of Seafair as a young lad, as tradition was for young boys to pull cut out wooden planks, usually plywood fashioned in the shape of a Hydroplane by string behind their bikes through the neighborhoods…

Having grown up in the era of the pre-turbine’s, today’s Hydro’s just don’t have the same notoriety to me name wise or in spirit, as the turbine whoosh has long since replaced those glorious open cockpit, front & rear engine World War II surplus V-12 Allison and Rolls Royce Merlin powered monstrosities known as the “Blue Blaster” and the “Beer Wagon,” dueling for supremacy opposite of the finger piers of the Stan Sayre’s pits, where Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines and the Pride of Pay ‘N Pak all left their indelible mark as Seafair victor’s, Gold Cup winners and National High Points Champions.

As luminary drivers like Bill Muncey and Dean chenowith immediately come to mind, not to mention Mickey Remund, Jim Kropfield, Tom D’Eath and local hero Chip Hanauer to name a few; while everybody fought to beat the sport’s “Kingpin” owner Bernie Little. During a time When boats named Squire Shop, Miss Rock (KISW 99.9FM), Oh Boy Oberto and Miss Madison were yearly contestants…

And thus, another summer has now come ‘N passed, as to me the zenith of summer in the Northwest is our annual Seafair Hydroplane Regatta on Lake Washington, capping a month long’s celebration of events including the landing of the Seafair Pirates, the Torchlight Parade and the piece de la resistance, the Blue Angels… (Which I’ve been watching since they used to fly with A-4 Skyhawks before upgrading to F-18 Hornets) Whilst in its heyday, I fondly recall the Goodyear Blimp making its yearly trek to Seattle and being stationed at the Sand Point Naval Air Base.

Yet, unbeknownst to me, this year’s just concluded running was the 60th Annual Seafair, which just like the modern Formula 1 series, began in 1950.

And without trying to rehash too many details after revisiting my Seafair Sunday (2008) report, its funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same, after quickly perusing the final heat’s entrants in last year’s event, which saw the Elam piloted by Dave Villwock win his ninth Seafair Cup against arch nemesis Jean Theoret (Miss Beacon Plumbing) and rival Steven David.

Yet, earlier this season in Detroit, apparently Theoret, now driving the renamed U-37 Hoss Mortgage flipped over and according to Hanauer’s repeated claims; (now a long time colour commentator for local CBS affiliate KIRO 7’s annual Seafair coverage) took his second gulp of water and thought he was dead… before being rescued!

After contesting Saturday’s preliminary heats, Theoret decided he just wasn’t physically able to go the distance and last minute substitute driver - J.W. Myers was brought in Sunday to pilot the U-37 Hydroplane.

Yet, this year’s event saw four different Heat winners over the two days of action, with Dave Villwock in the U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus, Steve David in the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto, Jimmy King in the U-3 Grandview on the Lake, and J.W. Myers in the (U-37 Hoss Mortgage Investors) each winning heats, with the 200,000+ crowd and sentimental favourite being King’s piston powered turbocharged Allison beating both Villwock’s And David’s turbines with a mesmerizing first flying lap at over 147mph.

And this feat of Old School technology is even more impressive as it’s reported that the piston powered boat is at a definite weight disadvantage, with the turbocharger weighing a hulking 600lbs alone… While on the opposite range of the spectrum, was the U-787 Boeing Hydroplane making demonstration runs the past two weeks with none other then Hydro legend Hanauer behind the wheel, having made a top speed blast of 153+ mph on Friday, as the Boeing boat is being utilized as a PR exercise while evaluating Biofuel, which it runs upon and has previously been tested by multiple airlines.

Yet, another Highlight to the weekend’s events was the Unlimited Lights Championship winner being none other then local resident Kayleigh Perkins, as Mr. Rock ‘N roll, Northwest Concert promoter extraordinaire, Patrick O’Day (75yrs old) exclaimed as the chequered flag was unfurled:

O’Day: There you have it! Seattle’s very own Danica Patrick!
Hanauer: Uhm, sorry Pat, but unlike Danica who HASN’T won very much really, Kayleigh has now just WON five races in a row.
O’Day: Yeah Chip; I guess you’re correct…

Yet Kayleigh isn’t the first female Hydroplane pilot, as that honour falls to Brenda Jones, whom I can seem to find very little out about, albeit one internets site proclaims that there was more then just Brenda as a Femme Fatale of the waterways, with the names of: Dorothy Levitt, Delphine Dodge and Betty "Joe" Carstairs being mentioned.

Also during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s; Carol Lee from Seattle, WA was the lone Female worker trailblazing the APBA National circuit as a crew member for the Miss Madison. Then the female ranks doubled when Yvonna Thomas crewed for her older brother Todd Yarling’s Cellular One Unlimited Hydroplane in the ‘80’s.

And don’t forget Lori Jones ownership of the U-9 Skyway Park Bowl and Casino, Fran Muncey’s team ownership after her husband’s unfortunate death, while in the new millennium Cindy Shirley currently is a crew member of the Oh boy Oberto.

But back to Kayleigh Perkins who was celebrating her inaugural victory at Seafair, enroute to clinching her second Unlimited Lights Championship, previously having been Rookie of the Year during her first title in 2007.

Yet Mr. O’Day was quite the celebrity in his heyday, when he amassed a fortune via Concerts West Promotions, where he traveled with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin and the Beach boys, along with being Seattle’s premiere Disc Jockey with an unheard of 40% market share and owning local Radio Stations such as KJR and KYYX, while becoming “the Voice of Seafair,” when first calling the action in 1968, which he’s now done for the past 41 years continuously…

Along the way, O’Day Dabbled as a boat owner by picking up various Unlimited Hydroplanes; becoming the very first to run a turbine and female driver.

O’Day ran the KJR (950 AM) sponsored turbine boat which once was the premiere Rock ‘N roll station in Seattle, but his ill fated U-95’s most notorious moment came when it sunk to the bottom of Lake Washington in the mid 1970’s.

Then in 1981, Pat was the first to put a female behind the wheel of an Unlimited Hydro, when he tapped Brenda Jones as the pilot of his Miss KYYX, before his bubble apparently burst in the mid ‘80’s when he was forced to sell almost everything during a period of insolvency; now living a more sedate lifestyle in the San Juan Islands as a John L Scott Real Estate member.

Meanwhile the Oberto’s have opened their Lake Washington home once again to selected Senior Citizen’s groups for what Art & Dorothy say will most likely be their final shindig on the Lake as they’re set to retire and downsize…

And I don’t know why the APBA has decided to muck up the rules even further, as now all races see assigned lanes, to which I agree with Chip; at least make the final five lap heat a free-for-all lane choice, as with Dave Villwock’s Elam having lane one, it was going to be an uphill battle for Steve David’s Oh Boy Oberto (the reigning National High Points champion), in lane two to defeat Villwock, with each successive lane outwards for the six boat field giving a diminishing chance of victory… With Hanauer mentioning they’d be making their respective turns south of Southcenter… (A major shopping center south of Downtown Seattle)

And thus, after a spirited first lap duel between Villwock (53yrs old) and David (55yrs old), with a hard charging Jimmy King on the outside, Villwock steadily pulled ahead, bouncing over the choppy water with roostertail flying high into the sky, while apparently the Oh boy Oberto was suffering from a melted down turbine and steadily lost power throughout the five lap heat, faltering to a lowly finish of last place, while the piston powered boat came home an impressive runner-up with J. W. Meyers in third place.

The win for Villwock gave him an unprecedented total of ten Seafair victories, the most by any driver, eclipsing Chip Hanauer, and was his 59th career victory, moving him withing striking distance of the top two all time winners: Bill Muncey (62) and Hanauer (61). Also, interestingly Will (Power) Muncey, son of the legendary Godfather of Unlimited Hydro’s is currently competing in the Unlimited Lights class…

2009 Seafair Results

U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus - Dave Villwock
U-3 Grandview on the Lake - Jimmy King
U-37 Hoss Mortgage Investors - J.W. Myers
U-5 - Jeff Bernard
U-17 USNW Express - Kip Brown
U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto - Steve David
U-7 Graham Trucking - J. Michael Kelly STARTED AS TRAILER