The most spectacular crash of the boat-racing season took place on a Saturday, in June of 2007.
At Quake the Lake I, in Detroit Lakes, three of the Formula 2 boats went into the third corner at 120 miles an hour. Al Tucker and his daughter, Katie, crashed as they were trying to maneuver through a corner. A rooster tail from another boat obscured their vision and the two collided.
It looked like a grenade had gone off and debris and boat parts were blown 30 feet into the air.
Both drivers were strapped into their cockpits with five-point safety harnesses, upside down in the water, and without oxygen.
Fortunately, both drivers’ cool heads prevailed and they followed their capsule training, which teaches drivers how to release the harness, release the canopy, and push themselves out so that they can swim to the surface.
That’s not an easy feat when you’re in a full-length racingsuit, a full racing life jacket, wearing a helmet, and hooked to your radio wires.
The racecourse rescue divers did a nice job of getting over to both drivers to help them get free from the wreckage and pull them to safety.
Surprisingly neither Al nor Katie broke any bones or sustained any life-threatening injuries. The crowd and the rest of the drivers were certainly on pins and needles until we knew they were all right.
Al’s boat was basically destroyed and he’s been working on it all year to put it back together. We’re looking forward to having Al back on the race circuit this year as he’s a great driver as well as a good friend to everyone who races.
Last year’s conditions were excellent for fast action racing. The winds were calm and all of the drivers were pushing their boats to the limit. Saturday’s race was more than a little exciting with crashes, flips, roll-overs and outright destruction of boats. Five boats were wrecked before the races ended that day.
I tangled with the driver of a carbon fiber boat in the corner after a restart.
I got spun around and got to watch three or four other boats coming at me at 90 miles an hour in the corner.
After they cleared, I was able to work my way back up into second place, only to start sinking as soon as I stopped. I knew I had lost the front tip of my right sponson in the crash. (Sponsons are projections from the sides of a watercraft, for protection, stability, or the mounting of equipment such as armaments or lifeboats, etc. -Wikipedia). I didn’t know that I was missing the bottom five feet of the sponson because I only started sinking when I slowed down enough for the front end of the boat to come back in contact with the water.
I had trouble with that right sponson for the rest of the racing season.
The 2007 Moose Lake Race
My Sport C had been running well all season and I was usually in the top three at the finish. At Moose Lake, Minnesota, Sunday started out with a 30-mile-an-hour wind, always dangerous for hydroplane racing.
The Sport C class boat tops out at about 60 miles an hour. One of the younger drivers asked if it were possible to “blow over” a Sport C and we agreed that yes, it would be.
As you drive these race boats, you typically have three switches on your steering wheel to trim up or trim down your motor. In optimum conditions, once the race starts you never take your foot off the accelerator and go into the corners at full speed. To control your momentum in the corner, you trim your motor down and you hope that “hooking” the motor slows you enough to enable you to make the left turn at full speed, rather than barrel roll, which is what gravity wants to do to you.
I felt that something had been wrong for the last couple of races prior to Moose Lake but when I’d go back to check my trim switches, they seemed to be working properly.
What I didn’t realize was that the trim switch that I used with my right thumb (which is the one I use most of the time) wasn’t trimming down. When you’re doing these things so quickly you think you must have just made a mistake, and then you double check the equipment when you’re on dry land and things seem to work.
I was chasing Nancy Landgraf in her custom built $12,000.00 Pugh boat. It’s a beautiful boat and probably one of the best on the circuit. I was running second, trying to take the inside of the course and make sharp turns and reduce the length of my lap; Nancy was staying to the outside of the course and making broad arcing laps.
As we were running down the backstretch of the course, I was trimming the boat out as much as possible trying to close the gap.
We were running into a 30-mile an hour headwind when a gust came up and all of a sudden it was like a tractor beam from a flying saucer had sucked me up about 8 feet into the air. Things started to move in slow motion. Everything became eerily quiet. I was no longer going 60 miles an hour on the water and hearing the waves crash against the boat.
I was seated in my cockpit, holding onto the steering wheel, realizing I was going to get my first taste of what it’s like to blow over backwards.
In my boat, I don’t wear a seatbelt or have a capsule over my head which creates conditions for a fairly unpleasant re-entry into the water.
I remember looking at the top of my sponsons and instead of seeing blue churning water, all I saw was blue sky and storm clouds. I was completely upside down and was starting to slip out of the boat. I reminded myself that I probably wanted to stay in the boat rather than fall out and then have the boat land on top of me.
I pulled on the steering wheel to keep myself in the seat and I remember thinking how this was like going over backwards on a rearing horse. I was strangely calm and was just waiting for the impact.
I’m not sure if it was my weight shifting back into the boat, or if another gust of wind made the boat corkscrew, but just before I hit the water, instead of landing upside down the boat rolled to its left in mid-air, came down hard, and I was still upright but pointed the wrong way.
After a giant splash, the next thing I saw was the third place boat coming at me at 60 miles an hour.
Thankfully the driver swerved in time so I didn’t get run over. I got the boat running and I thought “God, I hope somebody got that on videotape!”
I finished third. After crossing the finish line, I stood up in the cockpit and took a bow for
the crowd as I passed them, and they gave me a hearty ovation.
QL II at Detroit Lakes
You’d better not miss Quake the Lake II at Detroit Lakes on the first weekend in June.
I’m hoping to have at least one of my two race boats fixed and running for the event.
Last year, approximately three thousand people attended the two-day event. Organizers are hoping for another great turnout. It promises to be one of the more exciting water event weekends in Detroit Lakes and the region.
If You Go
What: Quake the Lake II, professional boat racing
Where: Beach in front of Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes
When: June 7 and 8
Info: (612) 529-7745
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