August 2004 Interview From Powerboat Magazine

The following is an interview by Gregg Mansfield from the "Timeout With" section of the August 2004 issue of Powerboat Magazine.

PB: Where are you right now with the American Challenge?

Wicks: The American Challenge project is currently wrapping up preliminary design of the craft and we've been doing a lot of analysis — both structural analysis and computational fluid dynamic simulation for aerodynamic and hydrodynamic pressures, and the interface between the two.  We're building the craft in such a way that it's going to be built modular.  We've come to the conclusion as we're doing some simulation and validation that we may be fine-tuning the shapes and sizes of the control surfaces and the sponsons and certain areas.  The main cockpit capsule area and the center hull configuration, we've come to a really good shape and structural design for that.  In the next couple of months we're going to be moving forward and building the capsule cockpit are first and moving back and doing the main center-section hull.

PB: Have you picked a location for the record attempt?

Wicks: I wouldn't say it's set in stone.  We've looked at a number of bodies of water.  We've always said Banks Lake in eastern Washington is a pretty good candidate.  There are some other areas, but there are only a couple.

PB: When do you think you'll make the run?

Wicks: We're still hopeful and planning for the fall of 2005.  When we set out for this plan of attack there were so many unknowns.  We made a lot of progress right out of the gate.  We signed some good technical partners and we had a lot of private funding and support.  Then 9/11 happened.  We made our announcement right before the 9/11 event in New York.  It's really taken some time for corporate American and sponsorship dollars, and even some private money to free up.  We're on a really good rack to move forward.

PB: Why do you think there has been a renewed interest in speed records?

Wicks: I think there has been a renewed interest in performance across the board.  I think the auto manufacturer (Ford) is a good example, coming out with the GT.  We as a country went through a stage in the 1970's, with the gas crunch and some other factors, that took away a lot of the motivating factors to build fast vehicles and promote them.  Now, with the way technology is involved, there are things like the Internet and wireless devices, and everyone wants to be the fastest.  Because of that, there is more of an interest now that has flown back to actual speed records on land and water.

PB: What does the average person not understand about running 200-mph plus?

Wicks: How bloody fast it is.  It's really fast.  It takes a lot of focus.  I've been fortunate enough to do it on land and water.  They both have different elements.  In the Indy car, you have an open cockpit and you feel the wind and turbulence bouncing off your helmet and the walls are much closer, so you have that sort of sensation that is unique and hair-raising.  One the water you're under an enclosed capsule in the case of a hydroplane.  Boy, you're bouncing around.  Even in the smoothest of water conditions, it's violent.  You've got to bear down and grit your teeth and keep the pedal down, but you've got to stay focused because you've got to look a long way in front of you.

PB: You've driven a hydroplane, Formula cars, and competed in motocross.  What's your favorite?

Wicks: I would say probably Formula car racing.  I really enjoyed that.  It was kind of a blend between motocross and oval track racing and probably Unlimiteds even.  I enjoyed motocross, going up and down the hills, left turns and right turns, short straights and sweeping corners, kind of banging wheels.  I've enjoyed it all.

PB: I've read a description that you are part Chuck Yeager and part Evel Knievel.  Do you agree with that assessment?

Wicks: I think I'm much more Chuck Yeager.  I think Evel Knievel was a little bit of a Las Vegas-type act.  He wore a cape and had elements of being a circus act.  I'm very different from that.  I'm someone who's pushed the limits of speed using modern technology.  Kind of a more white-collar business guy where Evel was more of a cowboy.  I always respected Evel and clearly he was one of my heroes growing up as a little boy.  I think the comparison with Evel is that from a marketing standpoint, Evel Knievel is probably more of a household name than Chuck Yeager.  The reason being he had kind of this enterprise of merchandise and doing these television specials.  He was very much an entertainer.