Female driver Perkins takes U-1 for a spin

From Herald news services August 8, 2010 

SEATTLE -- Moments after Kayleigh Perkins left the dock, the boat stalled and her mother's heart sank.

"That was her biggest fear," Laurie Perkins said. "Not getting started and she didn't want to crash into the dock on her way back."

Perkin didn't panic. She let the engine wind back down, then flipped all the switches necessary to re-start the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto on Saturday morning. Her foot hit the pedal harder this time, she drove off and had a blast.

Perkins' first test drive behind the wheel of a 31-foot long, more than 3-ton unlimited hydroplane was a roaring success.

Not content just to play it safe, Perkins made the most of a rare opportunity in her six laps around the race course on Lake Washington, turning in a top lap of 147.058 mph that would have made her the sixth-fastest qualifier at the Albert Lee Cup at Seafair.

That was even faster than her brother Brian Perkins, driver of the U-21 Miss Albert Lee Appliance, who was the No. 6 qualifier at 146.368 mph.

"I didn't think I was going to go that fast," said Kayleigh Perkins, a 2006 graduate of Kentlake High School and former ballet dancer who started racing boats when she was 16. "As soon as I started hearing the bigger numbers, I was like 'Oh my God. I can't believe I'm going this fast.' It was a lot of fun. I'm really, really just still in shock."

One of the most accomplished and popular drivers on the unlimited lights circuit, Perkins became the first female driver to take an unlimited hydroplane out of the Stan Sayres Pits at Seafair since 1982.

A large gathering of racing team members, race officials, family, media and spectators came to see Perkins' early morning test drive.

"I really wasn't nervous," she said. "I mean I was a little bit. Going out, I just felt more honored than I was nervous."

The crowd groaned when the boat stalled just after she pulled away from the dock. She was too light on the pedal, something she's used to in unlimited lights, so she smashed the pedal on her next attempt then was on her way.

"I was expecting it to be a lot more difficult to turn than it was," Perkins said. "The boat is such a great boat. I didn't struggle a whole lot. Every once in a while I tried to go in close to the buoys. It's a little bit more difficult to turn than I'm used to."

As she entered turns, she could feel the force of being in a larger, more powerful boat.

"It's so much heavier," she said. "I didn't feel a whole lot faster in the straightaways until you hit the corners and it's so much more force in the corners."

Perkins, who began lifting weights in September to strengthen her upper body, said the buildup to Saturday's event and weight of expectations might have been more draining than driving the boat.

Three of her laps averaged more than 143 mph. She joked with her brother about beating his Friday qualifying time of 146.363 mph, then went ahead and did it.

"He's got the pressure on now," she said.

Art Oberto, the primary sponsor of the U-1 boat, said it's only a matter of time when Perkins will be driving on the unlimited hydroplane circuit.

"There's no doubt about it," he said.

Perkins is hoping for a future opportunity with the big boats.

"I know that I can do it now," she said. "I know I can do it and be competitive. I'm not ready physically for a heat yet. I've got a lot more training to do to be able to withstand a heat. I need to work a little harder on getting my endurance going. My upper body is there, my endurance isn't."

After completing her laps, Perkins shut down the hydroplane's engine far from the dock and got a push in from another boat.

"I didn't want to hit the dock," she yelled as she approached the dock. "I felt that would be frowned upon!"

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