Come Ride With Me
By Craig Fjarlie

Almost any aficionado of unlimited hydroplane racing would jump at the chance to ride in a boat. Tad Dean owns the U-22 Dionysus, which raced in Detroit as Bruno's Appliance in 1977. A year ago last October he offered this writer the chance of a lifetime. "We're going over to Lake Chelan next weekend," he said. "Why don't you come along? I'll take you for a ride."

Lake Chelan, in central Washington, was the site of the Apple Cup from 1957 to 1960. Retired driver Norm Evans makes his home in the town of Chelan on the south end of the lake. Evans would like to revive interest in the Apple Cup. Having Dionysus make a few exhibition runs on the old course would help spark memories, Evans hoped.

Saturday finally arrived. A hearty breakfast started the morning. The crew seemed to take forever while they prepared the boat for the day of fun and roostertails. Shortly after noon, things were ready.

Evans took the yellow and blue boat out first for a series of high-speed runs, "just to get the ol' adrenalin going," he said.

"If Norm doesn't wreck anything, you're next," Dean told me. Perhaps sensing a bit of apprehension, he added, "My boat's just like a car. It rides real nice. It's fun, you'll like it."

Evans returned to the dock. Following a quick check of the engine, it was my turn. The seat was removed and replaced with a special board. Now the cockpit could hold two people. Dean helped me into a lifejacket and helmet. Then I stepped into the cockpit. "Two fat guys in the boat at once, I hope this is gonna' work," quipped Tad, as he slid in next to me.

The Allison engine coughed once, twice, then roared to life. "So this is what it's like," I though as we pulled away from the dock at Evans' Marina.

Dean guided the U-22 into open water and began to accelerate. "We're moving along at a pretty good clip," I thought. I turned around to look at the roostertail, but there wasn't one. We were hardly running on a plane!

Dean aligned the boat parallel with the shore and increased our speed. The engine was loud, even through the padded helmet. A stiff breeze rushed against my face, warmed by the furnace-like heat of the engine. I could imagine the discomfort this would give a competition driver on a blistering summer day.

I gave Tad a quick thumbs up signal. He responded. Suddenly the water was rushing beneath us of a tremendous rate. I quickly earned a deep respect for the power in the World War II-vintage engine. Vision is funneled directly ahead of the boat, perhaps due to the curve of the bow. I had to marvel at the skill of a driver who can keep a perspective on his competition while charging into the first turn. Racing one of these things is not for me.

Any fear within me was quickly squelched by the beauty of the experience. It's a water-bound space capsule. An escape from life's problems back on shore. It's like being in love for the first time. Now I understand why Bill Muncey has done this for a quarter of a century.

Too soon the ride is over. Tad got up first and walked to the bow of the boat. He turned to grin at me as I stood up. I loved it.

I had dreamed of this day for 20 years. Even though the ride was relatively brief, I feel richer for the experience. Should it be another 20 years before a chance like this comes again, I'll jump at the invitation. Thanks, Tad. This was one of life's rare treats.

(Reprinted from the 1979 Spirit of Detroit regatta program)

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