Dean Chenoweth — 1979 Speed Record Attempt
Chenoweth Survives High-Speed Flip
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Dean Chenoweth is lucky to be in the county hospital instead of the county morgue today.
As Ron Jones, designer of Miss Budweiser stated, "It’s a miracle."
Bernie Little, Bud owner, said, "The Lord saved him."
Chenoweth was believed to be traveling faster than any man ever has gone in an unlimited hydroplane yesterday when Miss Budweiser lost its propeller and flipped at an estimated 210-215 miles an hour off Denny Park on Lake Washington.
The Bud was attempting to break the mile straightaway speed record of 200.419 miles an hour set in 1962 by Roy Duby in Miss U.S. 1.
Chenoweth was listed in satisfactory condition today in the intensive-care unit at Harborview Medical Center with eight broken ribs, a small fracture of his pelvis and a lung contusion.
Chenoweth, 42, of Tallahassee, Fla., was conscious when he was pulled from the water by a Coast Guard rescuer.
The boat, built at a cost of more than $100,000, according to a crewman, was destroyed in the accident. Little said at Harborview after the accident he doesn’t know if he will build another hydroplane and continue in the sport.
Chenoweth declined to accept telephone calls or talk with friends or reporters last night in his hospital room. His wife, Kathy, who watched the crash, said she won’t ask him to quit racing.
"It’s up to him," she said in a controlled but shaky voice at Harborview less than two hours after the accident. "Most men search their whole lives for something they are good at. He found it long ago."
Dave Culley, Budweiser crew chief, rode to shore on the Coast Guard rescue boat with Chenoweth. Culley said Chenoweth "doesn’t really know what happened" during the accident.
Brad Van Patten, 21, a Coast Guard seaman from Los Angeles who dove into the water to rescue Chenoweth, said the driver was "conscious the whole time I was with him."
An hour before he flipped at 3:29 p.m., Chenoweth thought he was through driving for the day. Freshening southerly. winds had forced him to abandon north-to-south runs along the course after making afternoon south-to-north runs of 193.5 and 192 m.p.h. (Rules for straightaway records require two separate, consecutive mile runs in different directions without leaving the water.)
He had made several test runs in the morning, with a top run of 188 m.p.h. on the boat’s second-best combination of engine-gearbox-propeller. The camps fastest equipment was installed in the afternoon.
The boat was running superbly in the afternoon, and Chenoweth said he was confident he could break the record if the weather cooperated. He said he hoped to make the record run in the morning.
"You have to feel you’re ready, just like a high jumper, right?" a reporter asked.
"That’s it," Chenoweth replied.
Then the winds died and Chenoweth had to decide whether he wanted to run again. He went inside Little’s elaborate motorhome/bus and stretched out on a bed and talked with Little.
"Dean had a gut feeling when it was right and when it was wrong," Little commented at the hospital. "And his gut feelings always seemed to work out . . . There was a lot of pressure on everybody. They are sitting out there and they say the course is perfect and they tell you the weather’s no good tomorrow."
Little left the bus and Chenoweth had to make a decision. He emerged in his driving suit and the boat was lowered into the lake.
Chenoweth was about 100 yards into the record attempt when he flipped. Jones and others near the course noticed a splash behind the boat before it began to take off. They think it was caused by the propeller flying off. The boat lurched into the air and flipped backwards, hitting on its nose and left sponson. The boat was upside down when the spray cleared and debris was strewn over the water.
Chenoweth was "thrown from the boat a split second before the cockpit entered the water. He was wearing a helmet, flak vest and a parachute. Observers said he skidded on his back to safety about 50 yards in front of the boat.
The parachute was supposed to open, but didn’t. Gene Whipp, the referee, said the malfunction was fortunate.
"Had it fully deployed, the boat immediately would have caught up with him," Whipp said.
The referee added, "His flak jacket definitely took quite a blow in the back. If it weren’t for the jacket, his injuries would have been much more serious . . . He didn’t tumble. Normally, you see a guy going end over end."
Chenoweth skidded to a halt and instinctively waved that he was conscious. He was rescued within minutes. Less than 15 minutes after the accident, he was in a Medic One unit that took him to Harborview.
On shore, the mood changed from nervous excitement to terror when the boat flipped.
"Oh, no!" screamed Little. Second later he hollered, "Where’s Kathy?" and rushed 40 yards to where Chenoweth’s wife had been watching.
Chenoweth, the father of a teenage son and daughter, retired from unlimited hydroplane racing in 1974 with 13 career victories. He got a Tallahassee beer distributorship, with instructions to devote full time to shaping up the business.
With the business running smoothly, Chenoweth was enticed out of retirement this year by Little who had ordered the radically new Miss Budweiser. The boat was powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines, which have several hundred more horsepower than the popular Rolls-Royce Merlins. (The engines are off World War II aircraft.)
The boat, designed and built by Jones, was constructed with its cockpit left of center for ease in making the left turns
Jones had freely admitted last week that he didn’t design the boat for straightaway mile runs, but said its performance in testing yesterday gave him increased confidence that it could safely set a new mile mark.
Jones estimated the boat’s speed at 215 m.p.h. when it crashed. Little said the boat was going at least 210 m.p.h. Jones said the boat seemed to be pulling to its left, a characteristic Chenoweth had mentioned occurred when he briefly hit 200 m.p.h. on an earlier test run.
After the accident, Jones said, "There was no driver problem, no boat problem. It was just a mechanical failure."
Chenoweth competed in six of nine races this year, never winning, but setting four speed records and finishing third in the national point standings.
The only other unlimited on the course yesterday was the Squire Shop’s Allison-powered U-64, one-of the camp’s backup boats. The boat went dead before it reached 60 miles an hour in a test run. Chip Hanauer, the driver, said the cooling system apparently malfunctioned "and we burned an engine."
After Chenoweth’s accident, Whipp closed the course. The 1979 hydroplane season had ended.
Hydro Tales: Dean Chenoweth’s flip yesterday was the only hydro injury accident in 1979.. The only other time Chenoweth has been injured was in 1970 when he was dumped from an earlier Miss Budweiser during the Atomic Cup in the Tri Cities. He suffered a concussion and an injury to his left arm ... Two Miss Budweiser drivers died in the 1960s. In 1966 Don Wilson died when Budweiser collided with Notre Dame in the President’s Cup in Washington, D.C. Rex Manchester," the Notre Dame driver, also was killed in the crash. In 1967, Bill Brow died driving a different, Miss Budweiser in the Suncoast Regatta at Tampa.
Gene Whipp, unlimited referee who officiated at yesterday’s straightaway attempt, said the inability of boats to beat Roy Duby’s mark of 200.419 miles an hour in Miss U.S. 1 "really makes you respect what Duby did in 1962 with the equipment available at the time."
Bernie Little, Budweiser owner, had lavish praise for Medic One, the Coast Guard, Navy and course volunteers "for the way they handled the situation." Little, who lives in Florida, was impressed by the work of the Medic One crew and their communications with Harborview Medical Center. The medics, who spoke via radio with a doctor at the hospital, worked on Chenoweth for several minutes before leaving for Harborview. They were doing it, they lust weren’t talking about It," Little said of the emergency medical treatment.
(Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 24, 1979)
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