Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, October 8, 1999

H Y D R O P L A N E _ R A C I N G

Weber finds
a way to win
on the water

The hydroplane driver is one
of the favorites in this weekend's
JN Chevrolet Hydrofest

By Ben Henry
Special to the Star-Bulletin


The true thrill of an unlimited hydroplane race is best experienced before it ever starts.

The boats, darting so fast they cover a football field a second, jockey for prime position as they speed to their goal.

And just as time runs out, the boats, neck-to-neck, cross ... the starting line?

In this weekend's JN Chevrolet Hydrofest, some say the winner will be all-but decided before it starts.

"That's the whole race, actually," said U-10 driver Mark Weber, winner of last year's Hydrofest.

Heavily favored Miss Budweiser found that out the hard way last year, as Weber was the first to the starting line and the first to the finish line, shocking the hydroplane world with a victory in only the team's third race.


Bullet  WHAT: JN Chevrolet Hydrofest
Bullet  WHERE: Ford Island, Pearl Harbor
Bullet  WHEN: Tomorrow and Sunday, 9 a.m.
Bullet  COST: $8 Tomorrow and $10 Sunday. Children under 12 are free. $15 pass covers general admission and parking for each day and a cold pit pass tomorrow.
Bullet INFORMATION: Hydrofest Hotline, 473-2434.

Hydroplane unlimited races involve a timer counting down five minutes to the start of the race. Only until it hits zero can drivers pass the starting line. The goal is to start the race at top speed the instant time expires.

"So you cruise around and you want to nail this flying at 195 miles an hour," Weber said. "You want to hit that thing within a half a second. You can't be past it -- if you're past it, you jump the gun."

That's what happened to Miss Budweiser last year. The penalty for starting too early is an extra lap, lethal in five-lap unlimited races.

"We knew we couldn't beat them flat-out, so we tried to beat them at their own game, and we did," Weber said.

U-10 has won the last two Hydrofests, but Weber wasn't driving the first time. The boat was purchased with three races left in last season, and entered the Hydrofest just for the experience.

"We were going at it like, 'Let's just learn and absorb, and use that information over the winter to build our race team,' " Weber said.

"We were pretty surprised -- to the point where half the team was still on the mainland," said Kay King, U-10 public relations director. "Why send everybody over when we're just going to go out there and run around? I did the media releases from Portland at 11:30 at night, going, 'You did what?' "

Current owner Kim Gregory bought U-10 that late in the season basically to give his crew the opportunity to get used to unlimited racing.

"(He) figured that would make us that much stronger for this year," Weber said. "It was a good move, and we're lucky now that we've done it. At the time we weren't real sure."

Since the unlikely victory, U-10 has learned not to underestimate its chances.

Coming into the season, the rookie team set a modest goal for the season -- fifth place, and they would consider the season a success.

But Weber had a different vision.

"That didn't cut it," Weber said. "I said third, and Kim (Gregory) raised his eyebrows and said, 'Those are pretty high expectations.' I said, 'I know.' "

U-10 has already clinched its goal. And heading into this weekend's season-ending race, with basically little chance for advancement (Miss Budweiser has already clinched the national title), they are racing largely for pride.

"I never go into a race to come in second," Weber said. "I realize that could be a rather tall order when I look at the speeds that some of the boats were turning in (the last race), but we can win this race. We're going to have to have some things go our way, but that's OK -- I feel lucky."

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