Chapter 1 - A Race
Dawn breaks ...it is race day. Thousands of spectators line the shores, crews hastily adjust their beasts for a good performance, drivers' hands become clammy with nervous anticipation, broadcasters and their television crews ready themselves for the action that will be forthcoming.
Mass is held in the pits for those who wish to attend and the doctors give each driver a physical examination to see if he is fit to drive that day. The course is opened and the contestants make test runs to see if everything is performing satisfactorily. Soon it is an hour before the first heat and the course is closed. Final checks are made, the public address announcer begins his commentary to the fans in attendance, the drivers sit and think ...strategies roll through their minds, each competitor is sized-up.
The band is now playing the "Star Spangled Banner", dignitaries arrive and give their blessings, television coverage begins and with it comes the driver interview..." How are you going to do out there?" An empty pit forms in the driver's stomach ...butterflies. It is race day.
Tense silense is broken by the rumbling of diesel engines as the powerful cranes are fired up. A boat is lifted into the air and gently brought down and placed onto the surface of the water ...the crane revs its engine as it strains with the hydro's weight. Excitement spreads through the race crowd on shore. Drivers don their lifejackets and helmets. Owners suffer with prerace jitters ...will his driver be hurt, his boat damaged? Wives go through the anxieties particular to their association with the helmsman; they can only stand ashore and watch ...and pray.
Fifteen minutes remain until the start ...nearly all the boats are in the water. The drivers discuss strategy with the owners, crew chiefs discuss engines with the crew - last minute adjustments. The driver kisses his wife and steps onto the deck of his charger. He climbs into the cockpit, makes himself comfortable and listens to instructions from his owner and crew. A nod, a pat on the back, he reaches for the instrument panel ...pop, pop, pop...and it coasts to a stop. With his head bent in determination he tries again ...pop, pop ...flames shoot from each stack like on a pipe organ, a puff of black smoke ...it catches hold ...a deafening roar ...the thunderboat is away!
This scene is repeated in four other camps and soon the boats are on the course and running ...the five-minute gun ...the crowd is on its feet. Around the course they go, like bees swarming to find their hives, some going fast, others slow, all busy warming up their engines. Through the infield, playing follow the leader, out-psyching each otheror at least trying to. Someone has trouble with an engine, it quit and she lies dead-in-the-water on the course ...the driver frantically attempts to start in time, a roar - then silence ...it remains docile. The crowd is pulling for it ...another burst of smoke and it is away! The crowd lets out a cheer, the driver waves back even though he can not hear them. The air is filled with the sound of hydroplanes as they mill about the course, a noise unlike anything else.
The one-minute gun! The boats are in the backstretch and begin gathering together in a bunch as they enter the turn. The speed increases, they come out of the turn and grab for what they think of as the ideal starting lane ...they jockey back and forth at 150 m.p.h. Five roostertails reach for the sky, side-by-side. The starting gun fires and they cross the line with a loud roar a second later ...a legal start! Careening past the official barge and into the first turn...the most dangerous one.
Bouncing from sponson to sponson they dive for the lead hoping to come out of the turn in first place. Spray surrounds the participants as they chase the leader out of the first turn and down the backstretch. The race is on! The field spreads out but gather in couples to fight head-to-head amongst themselves. A boat lets out a large report and coasts to a stop ...a fire! The driver jumps from the cockpit and sprays the flame with his extinguisher. lie puts the fire out and signals to the barge that lie is okay then sits on the cowling to watch the rest of the race and wait for the long lonely tow back to the pits.
The final lap ... the leader is ahead by only two boat lengths, the challenger makes a bid to the outside. Into the first turn they go and out to hold a drag-race down the backstretch. Throttle back, turn hard left, cut close to the buoys ...the challenger goes wide. Alongside the exit pin it bounces, lands, waddles back and forth ...a puff of black smoke from the pipes - the nitrous is on ...with the extra burst of energy she settles down The checkered flag appears, the gun goes off ...a winner! Into the turn and slowing down, the driver waves to the crowd, goes down the backstretch with an air of nobility, cuts across the infield and heads for the pits. He shuts down the engine, she settles into the water and begins to drift to the pier. The driver gets out of the cockpit and stands on the bow to catch the line thrown by the crew to guide her home ...a smile is stretched across his face. The crew jumps aboard ...handshakes, laughter, congratulations and joy. The hero takes off his helmet, his hair is plastered to his forehead. He steps off the boat, onto the pier and into a crowd of newsmen and camera, questions ...answers...and more questions.
The interviews are over, he climbs into the truck and sheds his wet life jacket and begins thinking of the next heat. More data to consider ...who's racing against him next time? How did they do in the last heat? How are they hanging together? How am I hanging together? Is the water different than anticipated? How's the hull, and the engine? Does she need another powerplant put in? Where's that cold drink? Is she riding okay? Better talk it over with the crew.
This general scene repeats over and over, heat upon heat, race to race, season and season. But the slight variations are endless, win or lose. This is race day. This is Unlimited racing. Having to risk your life then answer questions moments later before you catch your breath, win or lose. The excuses why ...reasons for, disappointment ...delight, pressure, anticipation, gambling with one's own life ...this is Unlimited racing. This is race day!
(Reprinted from Roostertails Unlimited by Andy Muntz, 1973)
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