Dean Chenoweth — 1979 Speed Record Attempt
Injured Driver ‘Broke the Speedometer’
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Bernie Little, normally gregarious and outgoing, was subdued as he talked about the accident which destroyed his Miss Budweiser unlimited hydroplane yesterday on Lake Washington.
After visiting injured driver Dean Chenoweth at Harborview Hospital late yesterday afternoon, Little didn’t want to talk much about his future in the sport he has been an important part of for years.
"It all depends on Dean," said Little. "Whatever he wants, we’ll do."
Chenoweth escaped serious injury when the Miss Bud racing boat — new this year — kited out of control when its propeller broke off during a speed run for the world straightaway mark on Lake Washington.
"I was just in the room with Dean and he told me he broke the speedometer it went by the mark," Little said. "I don’t know but he must have been going 210 miles per hour."
Little had hopes of smashing the straightaway record with the Miss Bud to go with piston-powered airplane and rocket-car records set on air and land by Anheuser-Busch sponsored entries earlier this year.
But all that faded with the injury to Chenoweth, a close friend as well as his unlimited driver.
In response to reports that. Chenoweth had been reluctant to go out for another record try late yesterday afternoon — after a wait of almost two hours, Little explained, "He just said he had no desire to go out and run until the water was right for a record."
And just about everybody agreed the water was right at the time.
It also was agreed by those involved in unlimited racing that the impact vest Chenoweth wore during the mishap prevented more serious injury.
The so-called "flak jacket" cushioned the impact when he went flying out of the cartwheeling hydro and skipped across the water like a rock.
"If it weren’t for the flak jacket he would have been hurt a lot worse," said Ron Jones, the designer and builder of the Miss Budweiser.
There’s some question whether the fact Chenoweth’s rescue parachute failed to fully open was good or bad. Jones felt that if it had been fully deployed it might have slowed down his flight and the boat might have caught up with him."
The prop in the Miss Budweiser that broke was the same one used in the unlimited race in September in San Diego.
It was installed in the boat along with a new gearbox for the early afternoon runs in attempt to give it more speed. Several times during the past racing season — notably with the Circus Circus unlimited — boats lost propellers at speeds considerably slower than the estimated 200 mph.
Gene Whipp, the American Power Boat Association referee in the record attempt, said he felt the record was very attainable with the equipment available." But they probably won’t want to try for a long time. But he doesn’t expect another record bid for some time.
"I rather imagine," Whipp said, "it will knock the wind out of people trying for the record when that one (boat) didn’t do it."
Whipp called the conditions "perfect, and I’m confident he was well over what he needed to go for the world record."
The first Coast Guardsman in the water to rescue Chenoweth was Brad Van Patten, 21, of Los Angeles. "We were looking right at it about 100 yards away and saw the roostertail coming. The boat just came up and over and then there was a big old splash of white water," Van Patten said.
"We were the second boat there and I was the first one in the water. The guys in the first boat got hold of him and made sure he was still conscious and not drowning’.
"He didn’t say much. He was real cooperative and real quiet. He was just laying there in the water until we got the Stokes litter to him.
"He said his back was sore but he was moving around and sitting up in the litter on the boat," Van Patten said. "But he was conscious the whole time. He might have blacked out in the water. But from my opinion he didn’t know what happened himself."
A hospital spokesman said last night Chenoweth probably will remain there for two or three days, pending further examination.
(Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 24, 1979)
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