The Seattle Sun Newspaper - Jet City Maven Article

World record set at Sand Point: Hydroplane record stood for 38 years


Copyright 2000 Park Projects.


Speed kills.  And in the world of motor sports, that cliche has too often become literal.

That is part of the reason that the world record broken last month by driver Russ Wicks in the Miss Freei unlimited hydroplane had stood for 38 years.

Wicks piloted the Miss Freei to an average speed of 205.494 miles per hour on a straight, mile-long course, setting a world speed record for propeller-driven boats.

An attempt at the mark hadn't been made since Dean Chenoweth flipped the Miss Budweiser hydroplane off of Sand Point on the same Lake Washington course in 1979.

Wicks' run broke the previous world record of 200.419 miles per hour set by Roy Duby in 1962 on a lake in Alabama.

The morning of June 15 broke with filtered sun and anticipation.  The wind that had whipped up the lake and limited an attempt at the record the previous day was gone.  In its place was calm air and smooth water, perfect for a run at history.

Base camp was a nondescript dock and asphalt parking lot at the edge of the lake, just past the police training station at Sand Point.  There was a feeling that, after 38 years, the elements to break the record were coming together.  "He'll get it (the record), the conditions are right," said onlooker Karl Pearson.

A large crane sat next to the water, ready to hoist the lime green and blue speed machine in and out.  After an initial test run by Wicks to get line-up points, the boat was back on the trailer and crew members, decked out in blue shorts with blue and yellow Freei shirts, scrambled to fine-tune the shaft alignment.

Wicks, wearing a bright yellow and blue suit, was seen walking around, looking very calm for a man about to be in the midst of danger.  Also present were a half-dozen officials from the American Power Boat Association who were there to oversee and validate the record-setting attempt.

Coffee and snacks were provided under a large tent.  About 100 onlookers, many with cameras or binoculars, milled around.

The gathered members of the media, which included an ESPN TV crew, waited as we were continually told that the boat would be attempting the record "in about 20 minutes."

The crowd included many self-proclaimed "hydro junkies."  One of them was Dan Bertellotti, whose dad was a member of the pit crew for legendary hydroplanes such as the Hawaii Kai and the Slo-Mo-Shun.  Bertellotti first got "hydro-itis" in 1956 when he went for a 140-mile-per-hour ride in the Slo-Mo 4.

Finally, after about an hour, the Miss Freei was set into the water.  With a quick blast of the engine it was halfway across the lake, turning north towards the first buoy where timing would begin.  A helicopter flew overhead, tracking the boat from above.

The crowd all pushed to the edge of the water, many looking through binoculars or video cameras.  "He already looks better than this morning," one man said.

"I was here when Dean went over and I don't want to see that again," said another.

Flying low over the water, the Miss Freei rocketed north looking very stable; a 200-foot rooster tail flew into the air.  The boat was to make a mile-run northbound and then a return run southbound.  The speed of the two runs would then be averaged to get the overall result.

As Wicks passed the north buoy, cheers erupted from the crew.  "He got it!" they exclaimed.

Not so fast.  While the average speed was over 207 miles per hour going northbound, the Miss Freei still needed to make the southbound run to complete the record.

The boat turned around and headed south.  It still looked smooth, fast, and stable.  There is little doubt that the record would be set. In a matter of seconds, the run was over.  There are more cheers from the crew.  A huge smile spreads over the face of Ken Muscatel, the boat's owner.

A pseudo victory lap brought the Miss Freei swooping near the crowd.  The whine of the engine died out as the boat floated toward the dock and Wicks emerged from the cockpit victorious, and the holder of a new world record.

Stepping onto the dock, Wicks was immediately asked about safety.  "On the southbound run I got a little light, but nothing concerning at all.  I've always been fearless," he said.

Fearlessness is what was needed to attempt a record of such dangerous proportions.  Mission accomplished.

© 2000 Park Projects.  Please feel free to use the article in your research.  Be sure to quote the Jet City Maven as your source.