1973 UIM World Championship
‘New Ball Game’
Tom Kaufman got his first "drink" yesterday, and he still is in a state of euphoria.
"Boy, with that stuff, it’s a new ballgame," Kaufman bubbled after climbing out of his unlimited hydroplane, Mister Fabricator.
His crew had slipped him a shot of "nitro" (nitrous oxide) for a test spin around the Lake Washington course, and Kaufman became an instant addict.
The elation left him in a dreamy state. "If we’d used this stuff at Pasco," he said to his crew chief, Graham Heath, "think what ..." The words drifted off as Heath nodded.
Jim Ranger, the former My Gypsy owner-driver who has joined Kaufman’s camp, got the same treatment as the two headed for a shady retreat.
"Wait ‘til we get to Detroit," said Kaufman. "I could fly into that upper corner and ... " Again the words turned into thoughts.
"They never did trust me with that stuff," Ranger responded with a chuckle.
Nitrous oxide or "nitro," as the hydro clan calls it, is a little like that first cup of coffee on a Monday morning. Drivers grope for the nitro button once they leave a turn, seeking that extra engine boast to reach top speed quickly on the straightaway.
Until yesterday, Kaufman, an unlimited rookie at age 33, was advised to keep his hands away from the hot stuff.
"This is my driver-education year," said Kaufman, an owner-driver from Carrollton, Ohio, who has set some realistic goals for himself and his crew.
"There’s no way we’re going to win here," he said. "Like anything else that’s good, it takes time to build. We’re here to learn, to improve."
He qualified the Mister Fabricator Thursday, before "tasting" the nitro, at 102.370 miles an hour. The swiftest hydros have been exceeding a qualifying average of 120 m.p.h.
"In three years, I think we’ll be one of the real competitors," said Kaufman. "In five years, we’ll be there."
His philosophy parallels that of Heath, the former Miss Madison crew chief who has been on the business end of a wrench in some hydroplane pit area more years than he can remember.
"I like to race, but not under pressure," Heath said. "There’s not the real pressure here with Tom.
"He’s going to be one of the good ones. Give him the equipment, and I think he’s going to be a real charger."
"I think he’s a helluva shoe," said Ranger. "He uses his head. He’s taking it slow and learning the right way. He learns fast by his mistakes. And he doesn’t want to beat the world in one day."
Sometimes, though, like after his "gulp" of nitro, Kaufman talks as if he can’t wait to be out front.
"Can you get me on a plane to Louisville on Monday?" interjected a crewman. "Hey, man," said Kaufman, "if you can get me another 10 miles an hour out of this thing, I’ll get you there on a platter."
Kaufman caught the unlimited fever this year after flings in limited boat racing, auto racing, horse racing . . ., practically everything a successful businessman-sportsman would want to try.
A former end for Coach Woody Hayes at Ohio State (he wants University of Washington fans to remember that the Buckeyes beat the Huskies while he was on Woody’s varsity in 1957 and ‘58), Kaufman now owns a stainless-steel products company in the Buckeye State.
"We call it the Tom W. Kaufman Co. because if we’re going to catch hell for something, I’ll he the first to catch it," he said.
"I built my first boat at 14," he recalls proudly. "It had a Crosley engine. I swiped it out of my dad’s Crosley — his toy. Man, did I ever catch hell for that!
"1 really got into boat racing in 1956 in Miami. I won a nine-hour endurance race down there. My wife, Kitty, and I were married at the Orange Bowl Regatta in 1961.
"I drove at Sebring once. No way again. I went into one of those hairpin turns and became ‘Spinner McTop.’ At least there aren’t any hay bales or telephone poles out there," he said, pointing toward the lake.
"The difference between unlimiteds and limiteds?
‘Well, I’ll tell you ... it’s just like marriage. You can listen to everybody talk about it, but until you’ve been there .. .
"Out in that boat, it’s a whole different feeling; a whole different world."
Will Kaufman still be behind the wheel when he attains his goal of "being there" five years from now?
He reached to scratch his back while pondering the question. Unwittingly, he was scratching across a boat name sewed on the back of his driver’s suit sometime during his limited-driving past.
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 4, 1973)
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