KENNEWICK -- Just by her sheer presence, Bianca Bononcini is busting stereotypes in the Air National Guard Hydroplane Series.
Yes, girls can drive, too.
But the 24-year-old, a development series driver with the U-57 Formulaboats.com, studied fashion at the Art Institute of Seattle.
"All my friends are like, 'You're into what?' They think I'm a tomboy," she said.
Bononcini is fine with being a little different.
"I'm the odd girl out," she said. "I get picked on a lot, but it's all out of fun."
Bononcini might be a rookie unlimited driver, but she's well acquainted with the sport. Growing up, she would travel around the United States and Canada to watch her father, Phil, compete in Unlimited Lights races.
When Bononcini told her dad she wanted to race, too, "he wasn't thrilled about it, but you know, I'm his little girl."
She said her dad came around and has been her biggest fan.
"He funded the 1-liter program that got me here," Bononcini said. "He keeps me calm and reassures me."
Her dad's support helped her place second nationally in the 1-liters last year "to the guy who builds my motors (Jim Sechler), so I can't really beat him," she said.
When U-57 owner Ted Porter's driver development program selected Bononcini, Mark Evans -- the boat's regular driver -- said he fell out of his chair because a girl was picked. But having known Bononcini and her parents for years, Evans was pleased she was coming on board.
"She's not as interested in the hoopla, the marketing side of it, but she wants to learn to drive, and that's the cool part," Evans said.
Bononcini considers Evans her mentor.
"It's great because he's been around the sport all his life," she said. "He has so much wisdom and so many things to pass on to me."
To qualify as an unlimited driver, Bononcini must run 15 laps at an average speed of 130 mph. The Sammamish driver started qualifying in Detroit and has racked up seven laps, but she has yet to hit 130.
Saturday, Bononcini got on the water in the U-57, but the boat's bull nose broke after a bad hop.
Evans viewed footage from the incident and praised his fellow driver.
"She was in there with four other boats and turning lap-competition speed," Evans said. "Her average was 128. I was averaging 127 in the heat, so she was in competition mode."
Bononcini's next chance to get in laps will come this weekend at Seafair in Seattle, a much different environment than the Tri-Cities.
"The current here makes the water swirly and rough," Evans said. "There, you deal with the log boom, the fans and all the boat traffic. The waves come through the log boom and splash back."
Though the water might provide its fair share of obstacles, Bononcini isn't afraid of a good challenge.
"Over time, I want to be looked at as more than a girl driver," she said. "I want to be looked at more as a driver."
* Katie Dorsey: 509-582-1526; firstname.lastname@example.org