This week’s Boat Guy episode is about finding something that I lost out on Lake Washington decades ago when I was racing. When I look back at my years as a professional powerboat racer, I’m damn lucky I didn’t lose far more than that! The bottom line is, I survived an era in powerboat racing when more people than I like to think about lost their lives, some of them, very good friends.
There is not a day that goes by that I’m not aware of how lucky I was to enjoy the success I had in my career as a professional race driver. Not just winning races and making money but by simply staying alive and healthy. Looking back, sometimes I see myself like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Remember the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark? He’s running down a cave, pursued by a huge boulder, while all kinds of horrible things jump out at him, until he runs out of the cave to safety. Looking back, there were many circumstances and situations that could have gone the wrong way. If they had, I would not be here making silly videos and writing this blog.
Looking back at my career, sometimes I say, “What the hell was I thinking?” I guess I can write it off as simply being young and dumb. The sport was much different back then. Today, with canopies and air systems, hydroplanes flip frequently, but when we see a boat flip today, we assume the driver will be wet, but, most likely, in good health. As recently as the 80′s, when a boat flipped, you had to assume the driver was gone or horribly injured.
In my career, I replaced a number of drivers who lost their lives or health racing. For example, Jerry Bangs was killed in Seattle and, less than a month later, I was driving the very hydro he died in. I drove a limited boat, (“The Going Thing”) which had paralyzed its owner/driver, Wayne Thomsoney. He was the one who hired me! When I was hired to drive the new Atlas Van Lines, I was replacing perhaps the greatest hydroplane driver ever, Bill Muncey, after his death in Mexico. It was a new boat, but the safety precautions were the same as the boat Bill died in.
I am proud to say I played a role in changing how hydroplane racing approached safety. After Dean Chenoweth’s death, less than a year after Bill’s death, we made significant improvements to driver safety. No one had been belted into a race boat, but the Atlas team changed my boat, built a protective, rigid cockpit and belted me into it. That led the way to the completely encapsulated hydroplanes we see racing today. At the time, there was opposition to my being belted in. They said I might drown. But, in my mind, if I drowned, we at least improved the situation. The way it was going at the time, the driver was killed on impact. I felt we were at least moving the peg up a notch that I survived the crash to drown. I’m proud of that contribution and proud of Jim Lucero and my Atlas team who designed the new cockpit.
So, I’m excited that this video is about finding a piece of the Squire Shop that has been on the bottom of Lake Washington since 1979. It could just as easily be about a loss far worse than a piece of molded fiberglass. I’m also grateful that those dark days are behind us and drivers have a far higher degree of safety than we did in the 80′s. Thankfully, we’ve made significant, positive changes in a sport I love.