1997 Molson Thunderfest
Lake Okanagan, Kelown, BC, August 3, 1997

Three Days of Thunder Coming
By Steve Ewen

John Watkins can make a boat float over the water at what seems a million miles an hour. He can also make a conversation come to a complete stop.

The 44-year-old unlimited hydroplane driver from Seattle, who will be piloting the Miss Molson Dry this weekend at the Molson Dry Thunderfest in Kelowna, politely tried to put things to a halt when the subject of his crashes came up.

It's that way for any type of racer, as the hurts hit close to home, again and again and again.

"Was it a bad crash? Yah. Did I break stuff? Yah, that's why it was a bad crash," said Watkins, with a look that pleaded to change the subject. "How bad was it? Well, I'm still here."

That's all he would say. That's all he had to.

Crashes are a part of the sport, and unfortunately for unlimited hydroplane racing, the only part that often makes the nightly news. Few in B.C. can recall who won last weekend's event in Kennewick, Wash., but many probably remember getting a glimpse on the TV of the famed Miss Budweiser coming apart in an accident that sent Dave Villwock to hospital.

Villwock is said to be recovering, but last year's first-place finisher in Kelowna obviously won't get a chance to defend his crown this time around.

"I don't use those terms, because they don't work," Watkins said when asked if things get scary when bolting across the water at as much as 330 kilometres per hour.

"Scared I think of as panicky, and that's about the furthest from reality. I'll use the word spooky. Boats getting light, it gets a little spooky out there, but it's more of a concern than it is a fear or a panic or being scared.

"(Crashing) is always there in the back of your mind. You have to be aware of it. If you don't have a caution, a concern, that's when you become unsafe. It's what keeps you safe, it's good to have. If you lose that, then you're in trouble and that's when something is going to happen.

"Accidents are always more spectacular, so that's what gets the (news) footage . . . it's true of any motorsport. It kind of disappoints me because it gets so much of the attention. It would be like showing football highlights and doing nothing but bloopers."

He is used to it by now, with more than two decades in the sport. Watkins was racing on water before he had his driver's license for the road, since he built his first hydroplane at age 14.

He is credited with building the Squire Shop and Circus Circus boats in 1978 and then spent '80-'81 building Merlin engines for arguably the sport's best-ever driver, the late Bill Muncey.

The next few years he worked in various capacities for several different teams, before finally qualifying for the unlimited class last year.

He turned in the fastest rookie qualifying time ever last weekend in Kennewick, when he darted around the course at an average speed of 157.183 mph.

"Dealing with the media is new for me," Watkins said of the changes to his career this year with the jump to being an unlimited driver.

"Seeing my name up on the board with childhood heroes' names . . . or looking at the speed I've done. Looking at the speed and thinking that that's 30 miles an hour faster than what my heroes had done."

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Province, Friday, August 1, 1997)

Unlimited Light Preliminary Heats

Heat 1A
1. George Stratton, Las Vegas, Nev., Wild Fire, 93.599;
2. Bo Schide, Dayton, O., Alamo, 93.339;
3. Doug Brow, Seattle, Wash., Pete's Wicked Ale, 90.432;
DNF--Phil Bononcini, Redmond, Wash., Pocket Mechanic (fast lap, Stratton, 3rd, 96.776);

Heat 1B
1. Charley Wiggins, Gadsden, Ala., Abbott Villa Special, 95.538;
2. Randy Haas, Toledo, O., Miss LeRoi, 94.965;
3. Dave Bender, El Dorado, Calif., P.J.'s All-Star, 92.567;
4. Dennis Macy, Garden City, Mich, Molson Dry/Stay 'N Save, 88.205 (fast lap, Wiggins, 3rd, 97.608);

1. Schide, Alamo, 97.575;
2. Stratton, Wild Fire, 97.321;
3. Macy, Molson/Stay 'N Save, 81.034;
DNF--Haas, Miss LeRoi (fast lap, Stratton, 3rd, 99.070);

1. Wiggins, Abbott Villa, 89.392;
2. Bononcini, Pocket Mechanic, 83.368;
3. Bob Larimore, Springfield, O., Pete's Wicked Ale, 91.567 (penalized one minute for start infraction);
DNF--Bender, P.J.'s All-Stars (fast lap, Wiggins, 3rd, 91.152).

*  *  *

Amazing High-Flying Flip Thrills Crowd at Kelowna Boat Race

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- George Stratton of Las Vegas, Nev., executed an amazing maneuver on gusty Okanagan Lake during a Unlimited Lights Racing Series preliminary heat here Saturday afternoon as action continued in the Molson Dry Thunderfest for unlimited hydroplanes and their seven-litre support series, the Lights. Stratton, just after narrowly losing to ULRS points leader Bo Schide, Dayton, O., and traveling in excess of 140 miles an hour, blew his Wild Fire boat over backwards and reached an altitude of 30 feet before doing a perfect 360, then crash-landed -- upright -- and kept the motor running long enough to steer his way back over to the pits.

Stratton suffered no serious injury, aside from being generally shaken up. A crowd of some 15,000 gave the hardy pilot a rousing ovation. The boat incurred minor hull damage, which may be repaired in time for Sunday's Lights final.

*  *  *

Hydro 'Plane' Lives Up To Its Name
By Don Plant

In a word: unbelievable.

Before thousands of horrified fans, one of the high-powered hydroplane boats at Thunderfest did the near-impossible yesterday afternoon.

Wild Fire, piloted by racer George Stratton, had just crossed the finish line at 150 miles per hour when its bow lifted off the surface of Okanagan Lake.

The north wind raised the boat right out of the water and sent it looping backward in mid-air. It completed a full circle before splashing down.

Miraculously, the boat landed right-side-up and Stratton, unhurt, was able to drive the boat to shore. Spectators went wild, and race officials shook their heads in wonder.

"Absolutely unbelievable," said Bob Flajole, a broadcaster who has followed hydroplane racing for 25 years. "I've seen boats go over, but I've never seen a recovery like that.

"It's very fortunate he made it all the way over. If it was half over, he would have been hammered big time."

The same type of 360-degree blowover has injured many racers and killed a few. But Stratton, a Las Vegas native who has raced only four times in the class, managed to keep; his presence of mind and steer the boat through the flip.

Once back on the water, he continued driving in case the impact had blown a hole in the hull.

"I had to drive it back!" he said, laughing, just before medics whisked him away for a check-up.

A steady 25-km/h wind kept the other Unlimited Light hydroplane racers from flooring it throughout the day. Veteran racer Lee Davies, who has been blown over 15 times in his career, had to be conservative when he competed in his qualifying round for tunnel boats earlier yesterday.

"It's pretty windy and rough. These are pretty small boats. The bigger boats seem to handle it better," he said.

"You can deal with the wind, but when you get rough water AND wind, you're bouncing and it's hard to hold your head straight."

Rain threatened to soak the estimated 15,000 fans, but the clouds cleared away by early afternoon.

The forecast for today -- the final day of Thunderfest -- is sunny with afternoon cloudy periods, a 20 per cent chance of rain and a high of 32C.

(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, Sunday, August 3, 1997)

*  *  *

Driver Points at Himself For Blame

Driver George Stratton didn't offer any excuses for his actions that caused the Wild Fire to blow over yesterday at the Molson Dry Thunderfest.

More than 15,000 race fans and dozens of unlimited hydroplane veterans were left shaking their heads in disbelief after Stratton walked away from the spectacular crash in his Unlimited Light boat on Okanagan Lake.

Stratton's boat did a complete revolution in the air before landing right side up. He fired up the boat and drove it to the pits. He was travelling about 100 miles per hour, trying to catch the heat's leader, when the wind got under the boat.

"It was pretty much a dumb rookie move," Stratton said a few minutes after the crash. "I shouldn't have done it."

Blowovers happen once in a while in unlimited hydroplane racing but no one remembers a driver firing his craft up and cruising back to the paddock.

"I've never seen anything like that in all my years of racing," said Close Call's veteran driver, Mark Tate.

Last weekend in Tri-Cities, Miss Budweiser driver Dave Villwock suffered a blowover. The boat was in pieces and Villwock had to have his hand re-attached. He has lost two fingers on his right hand.

This is Stratton's fifth race after a career in racing smaller boats. He was close to the leader of his heat but he had to take a wide turn to avoid a stalled boat. That meant he really had to step on the throttle to catch the leader in the straightaway.

Althrough Stratton -- he's from Las Vegas -- said he has the boat's safety features to thank, he had some luck, too. Wild Fire did one revolution and then landed tail first, much like an airplane.

"It was like landing a Piper," he said.

'What goes through a driver's mind, what does he see and hear, when he has flipped the boat at such a high speed?

"I was just hoping I would get out of this thing all right," said Stratton, who didn't have any injuries from the crash. "I watched the sky go around. And all the way through the loop my crew chief Kim Gregory was saying (through the radio): 'I hope you're OK, I hope you're OK.'

"It was like riding a ferris wheel."

And why didn't he just wait for a tow once the boat had stopped flying?

"I was thinking that if I had a hole in the boat I didn't want it to sink in deep water," said Stratton.

The crowd gasped in excitement and then applauded the fact Stratton was uninjured.

The boat suffered damage to the rear right section and the front right sponson. Word among the crew members is they'll have it ready for Stratton to race in the Unlimited Lights final today.

(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, Sunday, August 3, 1997)

*  *  *

Wide Open and Windy on Okanagan Lake
By John Harding

The late-arriving rebel joined the fold and the focus returned to boat racing yesterday at the Molson Dry Thunderfest.

Defending Kelowna champion PICO American Dream rolled into town under darkness early in the morning. A few hours later in front of about 15,000 race fans, driver Mark Evans had owner Fred Leland's boat qualified for today's heats and final (3:40 p.m.).

Yesterday's action was highlighted by a blowover in an Unlimited Lights heat. Driver George Stratton was okay and the Wild Fire team thinks it can get the boat ready for the Lights final today.

Mark Tate and the Close Call boat still has the best qualifying speede (148.402) after three sessions yesterday and will start on the inside lane in today's first heat (11 a.m.). PICO was second (145.76) and the Kelowna Unlimited Hydroplane Association entry, Miss Molson Dry and driver John Watkins, was third (144.858).

"That (inside lane on Heat 1A) is about the only advantage you get out of the deal," said Tate.

Meanwhile, a weary Miss Budweiser crew worked frantically all day, patching a hole blown in the bottom of the hull when a propeller broke yesterday. An engine was dropped in late yesterday and it looks like Miss Bud will qualify this morning.

"It's not the istuation we'd like to be in but the ability to adapt is what'll get us through," said Miss Bud driver Mark Weber, confident the crew has done its job.

"Five years from now, that repair will still be there. It's like brand new."

Mercifully, all the talk about Leland, fines and rules violations dissipated with PICO on site.

"That's between them (Doner and the owners)," said Evans, fighting back yawns after a night of little sleep. "Of course we hear about it. But we (driver and crew) don't want to dwell on the negative part of something that we're having so much fun at.

"Put me in, point me out and let me go."

"We're tickled they're here," said UHRA commissioner Bill Doner. "I know he (Leland) will do a good job."

Doner also said the heats and final are wide open today.

"I couldn't tell you who's going to win this race."

Qualifying yesterday was rewarding in the morning, futile against the winds in the afternoon. Only three boats (Close Call, PICO and Gargoyles NITRO) even tried the race course in the last session of the day and all three of them pulled back into the paddock after only a lap or two.

Miss Molson Dry has some secret weapons squirreled away in its camp.

"See this engine?" said Molson Dry crew chief Scott Raney. "It's sitting here until the final heat. We have a prop in the trailer and it's staying there until the final.

"I think we're a factor here."

PICO is the defending champion of the Kelowna event. The 1996 final was cancelled due to high winds. Miss Bud -- its regular driver Dave Villwock in hospital after a terrible crash in Tri-Cities last weekend -- is the series points leader and has won four of the five UHRA races this year.

Gates open at 9 a.m. today. If you don't already have a pass, it'll cost $35.

(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, Sunday, August 3, 1997)

*  *  *

Preliminary Heats, Aug. 3, 1997

Heat 1A

1. Mark Tate, Canton, Mich., Close Call, 131.309
2. Nate Brown, Preston, Wash., Miss TruckGear, 129.109
3. Steve David, Pompano Beach, Fla., Gargoyles NITRO, 126.666
4. Mitch Evans, Chelan, Wash., Packet Engines/Appian Jeronimo, 124.952
5. Rick Christensen, Eatonville, Wash., Ultima/Spirit of Lake Chelan, 105.912 (fast lap, Tate, 2nd, 134.986).

Heat 1B

1. Mark Evans, Wenatchee, Wash., PICO American Dream, 137.163
2. Mike Hanson, Madison, Ind., DeWALT Tools, 136.288
3. Mark Weber, St. Clair Shores, Mich., Miss Budweiser, 131.581
4. John Watkins, Federal Way, Wash., Miss Molson Dry, 119.339
5. Jerry Hale, Hayward, Calif., Miss Exide, 111.071 (fast lap, Hanson, 3rd, 136.807).

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- Two of the "Marks," Tate and Evans, drove their respective boats to victory in the split sections of Heat One Sunday while the third prominent "Mark" -- Weber, he now in the Miss Budweiser -- had to be content with a third-place finish after being given a minimum, 130 mph qualifying time and starting from lane three in what turned out to be a ferocious Heat 1B.

While Evans' PICO American Dream was all out to stave off a determined challenge by Mike Hanson in the resurgent DeWALT Tools, Weber took plenty of rough water on Okanagan Lake as Molson Dry Thunderfest continued under gusty conditions. The Bud finally got back into the water after a 36-hour repair job and "earned" its way into the event (as opposed to taking a Commissioner's Option) with a 146-plus mile-an-hour morning test lap. For purposes of record keeping (and separating a lane choice tie in the second heat), the Bud is at the bottom of the qualifying ladder.

Tate's Close Call may have won 1A but he has his work cut out for him in 2A, with teammate TruckGear, DeWALT and PICO all drawn inside of the fast qualifier. Budweiser, meanwhile, has the far easier draw in 2B.

The draw for 2A (inside out): Miss Exide, Miss TruckGear, DeWALT Tools, PICO American Dream, Close Call; and the draw for 2B: Ultima/Spirit of Lake Chelan, Packet Engines/Appian Jeronimo, Miss Budweiser, Gargoyles NITRO, Miss Molson Dry. Starting time is 12:30 p.m. (PDT).

*  *  *

Heat 2A (3 laps)

1. Mark Evans, PICO American Dream, 138.622
2. Tate, Close Call, 133.157
3. Hanson, DeWALT Tools, 131.077
4. Brown, TruckGear, 134.673 (penalized one lap for lane infraction)
5. Hale, Exide, 73.006 (fast lap, Evans, 3rd, 138.849).

Heat 2B (3 laps)
1. Weber, Budweiser, 137.696
2. Mitch Evans, Packet/Appian, 129.104
3. David, Gargoyles, 126.619
4. Watkins, Molson Dry, 114.047
5. Christensen, Ultima/Chelan, 105.017 (fast lap, Weber, 3rd, 140.652).

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- They didn't arrive until Saturday morning, but the defending JASPER THUNDER TOUR presented by LAS VEGAS series champion PICO American Dream crew, their boat piloted by veteran Mark Evans, required just two victorious heats to move into the catbird seat at Sunday's Molson Dry Thunderfest on Okanagan Lake. Evans posted the quick, three-lap, six-mile heat speed in 2A by outrunning a bevy of hot boats in an average of 138.622 and leads all the fleet into the third heat with a perfect 800 points.

A one-lap penalty to Nate Brown in the Miss TruckGear (for lane encroachment in the second turn) dropped him from second to fourth and elevated Competition Specialities Racing teammate Mark Tate in the Close Call to a second-place finish and a next-best 700 points.

All four heat sections so far have produced some good racing, with all boats completing each heat. However, the U-3 just did make across the line before requiring a tow back to the pits after 2B.

*  *  *

Hydroplane Racer Flips in Unlimited Light Final

He's Apparently Okay, But Heat is Rescheduled For Later in Day

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- Veteran boat racer and owner Bob Larimore, 54, Springfield, O., survived serious injury when his Unlimited Light seven-litre hydroplane flipped and crashed hard in Okanagan Lake prior to the start of the Light championship final Sunday afternoon.

Larimore was knocked unconscious and trapped underwater in the open cockpit of his Pete's Wicked Ale/Pegasus Special before rescue divers pulled him out. He wasn't breathing at the time, but artificial respiration was launched, followed shortly by Larimore beginning to breath on his own.

Doctors at the Molson Dry Thunderfest said, preliminarily, that Larimore appeared to have no fractures, but that he might have suffered a concussion and a broken nose. He was taken to Kelowna General Hospital for further observation.

The Unlimited Light final was rescheduled for later in the day.

*  *  *

Heat 3A (3 laps)

1. Mark Evans, PICO, 140.156
2. Tate, Close Call, 139.160
3. Hanson, DeWALT, 132.719
DNS--Watkins, Molson Dry; Hale, Exide (fast lap, Evans, 2nd, 141.182).

Heat 3B (3 laps)

1. Brown, TruckGear, 133.029
2. Mitch Evans, Packet/Appian, 126.904
3. David, Gargoyles, 122.595
DNF--Weber, Budweiser; Christensen, Ultima/Chelan (fast lap, Weber, 2nd, 142.169).

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- After leading the way for 2 1/2 laps, the Miss Budweiser's motor gave up the ghost in Heat 3B of the Molson Dry Thunderfest, allowing Nate Brown, Preston, Wash., to scoot on to victory in the Miss TruckGear and forcing Bud replacement driver Mark Weber into a consolation heat in a bid to gain entry into the winner-take-all final scheduled for 3:45 p.m. Mark Evans, Wenatchee, Wash., with three straight heat wins in the defending champion PICO American Dream, has the lane choice for the seven-boat final. If the Budweiser does qualify, it would have to start from a trailer position behind the first six boats.

*  *  *

Unlimited Final (5 laps, 10 miles)

1. Mark Evans, Wenatchee, Wash., PICO American Dream, 130.197
2. Mark Tate, Canton, Mich., Close Call, 127.194
3. Nate Brown, Preston, Wash., Miss TruckGear, 126.749
4. Mike Hanson, Madison, Ind., DeWALT Tools, 125.427
5. Mitch Evans, Chelan, Wash., Packet/Appian Jeronimo, 122.611
6. Steve David, Pompano Beach, Fla., Gargoyles NITRO, 119.691
7. John Watkins, Federal Way, Wash., Miss Molson Dry, 118.265.

KELOWNA, B.C. (Special) -- Mark Evans and the PICO American Dream flashed to four straight heat wins, including the winner-take-all final, to gain victory in the Molson Dry Thunderfest portion of the JASPER THUNDER TOUR presented by LAS VEGAS for unlimited hydroplanes.

Second was Mark Tate in the Close Call, followed by Nate Brown in the Miss TruckGear. The Miss Budweiser, along with replacement driver Mark Weber (in for the injured Dave Villwock), failed to qualify for the final. A loose fuel flow valve cost the Bud a third-heat victory and, by the time the trouble was spotted, Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association chief referee J. Michael Noonan of Louisville, Ky., ruled that the boat was too late in the water for the provisional, or last-chance, heat.

The Thunder Tour resumes Aug. 8-9-10 on Lake Washington in Seattle with the Texaco Cup at SEAFAIR.

Unlimited Light Final (3 laps, 5 miles)

1. Bo Schide, Dayton, O., Alamo, 94.446
2. Randy Haas, Toledo, O., Miss LeRoi, 91.417
3. Charley Wiggins, Gadsden, Ala., Abbott Villa Special, 87.927
4. Phil Bononcini, Redmond, Wash., Pocket Mechanic, 84.123
5. Dennis Macy, Garden City, Mich., Molson Dry/Stay 'N Save, 81.092
6. Dave Bender, El Dorado, Calif., P.J.'s All-Stars, 78.568
DNF--George Stratton, Las Vegas, Nev., Wild Fire (fast lap, Schide, 2nd, 98.449).

Bo Schide won his third Unlimited Light final of the season in the Alamo out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., an event that was interrupted when veteran racer and defending ULRS series champion Pete's Wicked Ale/Pegasus of Springfield, O., flipped on a warmup lap. Driver Bob Larimore, 54, was rescued unconscious and unbreathing from the wreckage, but revived before being taken to Kelowna General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

*  *  *

PICO Smokes on Water, Wins in Kelowna
Special by John Harding

KELOWNA, B.C. - PICO American Dream loves the choppy waters of Okanagan Lake.

Driver Mark Evans of Wenatchee drove his boat to four consecutive heat wins in the Molson Dry Thunderfest unlimited hydroplane race, including the winner-take-all final with an average speed of 130.197 mph. It was the second straight victory in Kelowna for PICO.

Not unlike the crazy week leading to the race, or last year's victory after a canceled final heat, this championship was steeped in controversy. Series points leader Miss Budwesier didn't even get to the final because of a faulty fuel flow valve, a device placed in all boats by the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association.

Embattled PICO owner Fred Leland - his boat didn't show up until Saturday - said after the race that the victory was important for many reasons. "We had to win because I forgot to bring the perpetual trophy," Leland said in the jubilant PICO pits. "We're hard competitors and we really race pretty good, even if some people say we cheat."

Owner Steve Woomer, who has called Leland a cheater, had two boats finish in the top three: Mark Tate in Close Call was second and Nate Brown in Truck Gear was third.

Brown's boat received a great cheer from the crowd as it stumbled back to the pits in pieces - it lost all of its tail gear in the final.

The Budweiser went dead in the water during the last heat before the final. The crew couldn't get the problem fixed before the provisional heat and missed the final. Bud owner Bernie Little was asked to comment: "You don't want to know. It wouldn't be fit to print in a newspaper." The fuel valves are put in the boats by the UHRA in an attempt to even the field among boats. "Yeah, the only part not owned by the Budweiser fails," driver Mark Weber said.

UHRA chief referee Mike Noonan said it wasn't the fault of UHRA. "The part does not leak unless the two fittings leak," he said. "They (Bud crew) put the fittings on." The Bud was cruising to a good lane choice when the boat stopped in the last preliminary heat. "It (fuel flow valve) let fuel flow into the bottom of the boat," Little said. "There's nothing we can do about it."

The Bud team also was upset the UHRA didn't wait for Miss Bud for the provisional heat, especially since the Bud team blamed the UHRA for the mishap.

Noonan said the Bud team had extra time to make it onto the water for the provisional because an unlimited lights boat was being towed off the course.

(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, Monday, August 4, 1997)

*  *  *

Evans, PICO Win Second Straight Event
Special by Jody Moore

KELOWNA, British Columbia -After slipping into town in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Mark Evans dominated the Lake Okanagan course Sunday to bring home another win in the PICO American Dream at the Molson Dry Thunderfest.

Evans, a Wenatchee native, defeated Mark Tate in the Close Call in the final two preliminary heats and in the championship heat with an average speed of 130.197 mph.

Evans was enthused by his finish, especially since PICO owner Fred Leland decided at the last minute to head to Kelowna.

"It was worth it," said Evans, who won the Columbia Cup in Kennewick last weekend. "I'm glad we did decide to get up here. It worked out great. There's nothing like a clean sweep all the way through. It's just a fantastic feeling."

With the perfect 1,600-point day, Evans has the PICO back in the national points race. Evans said he thinks the team has a good shot.

"We're going for it. We've just got our sight set on winning, and the PICO will," he said. "(The crew) is a competent group of guys."

Mark Weber, driving his first race in the Miss Budweiser in place of Dave Villwock, failed to make the final after going dead in Heat 3B.

The Bud team tried to change motors but discovered the cause of their problem was a failed fuel flow valve. The part, which is maintained and regulated by the UHRA, had broken at the top, flooding the engine bay with unspent fuel.

The boat wasn't ready to enter the provisional race, and John Watkins needed only complete one unopposed lap in the Miss Molson Dry to secure the last spot in the final.

"Obviously we're disappointed," Weber said. "I really feel bad for the crew. I had the fastest boat on Friday, and we broke the boat and then rebuilt it. They worked 40 straight hours."

Weber also was disappointed the Miss Bud wasn't allowed into the provisional heat. "(The UHRA) said they'd wait for us because of the circumstances," he said. But after a five-minute delay to the heat's start, the chief referee ruled the boat was too late in the water.

Weber said he's not sure if the Bud team will protest the decision. "That will be Bernie Little and Ron Brown. I stick to the cockpit and driving and let them worry about the rules," Weber said.

"We'll be back. We're going to Seattle fired up."

Nate Brown in the Miss TruckGear held on to second place most of the final race, but Tate finally edged around him for second. Brown struggled after losing the entire wing assembly, but he still showed incredible speed in the boat, which has struggled all season.

"It was rough," Brown said. "I was glad to finish the final heat. It was good racing, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I've got to go home and build some more parts now."

* * *

Bo Schide held off a hard charge from George Stratton in the freshly repaired Wild Fire to win his second straight Unlimited Lights final. The win keeps Schide and Alamo boat owner Ned Allen firmly atop the Lights points race.

The final was stopped before the first start when Bob Larimore rolled the Pegasus/Pete's Wicked Ale in warmup laps. Rescue workers responded quickly, but Larimore was underwater for almost four minutes. His boat is one of the last not to use an enclosed canopy, which will be required next season.

Larimore was taken to Kelowna General Hospital and is reported in serious but stable condition.

He will be held for a few days for observation. Larimore's lungs filled with fluid and he was unconscious, but otherwise suffered no major injuries.

(Reprinted from the Tri-City Herald, Monday, August 4, 1997)

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