Weeks after flip, 88 Degree Men boat will be in Tri-Cities

July 26, 2012 

Even with the 88 Degree Men boat flipping July 15 on the Detroit River, Matt Gregory likes his team’s chances this weekend at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.

“This boat, for whatever reason, it loves these next two races (in the Tri-Cities and Seattle),” said Gregory, the crew chief and owner of the boat. “It’s like a big kind of Daytona field. I think we’ve got a great race boat setup these next two races.”

This will be the Gregory family’s first race in the Tri-Cities since 2008. Family patriarch Kim died in September 2008 after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 58.

His wife, Debbie, sons Matt and Adam, and daughter Kari decided to put their USA Racing Partners boat on dry dock after that with the idea of selling it.

That didn’t happen, and a few years later, the family looked at getting back into the sport.

However, the team’s driver, Dave Bryant, was killed in April 2010 in Australia racing flat-bottom boats.

That took the wind out of Matt Gregory’s sails until last fall, when he and Adam convinced Debbie they needed to get back on the water.

The only thing the family did during its hiatus was keep the boat -- a former Miss Budweiser hull -- in race-ready shape.

Scott Liddycoat, who won the Oryx Cup in Doha, Qatar, last season as a rookie in the U-7 Valken.com, came aboard as the team’s driver. He even got some seat time in some practice runs in May on the Columbia River.

When the team placed third in the season-opening Madison (Ind.) Regatta on July 8, Matt Gregory was ecstatic.

Then came Detroit the next weekend, when the boat flipped.

“We should have not been running on the water in Detroit,” Gregory said. “We stopped because of high wind in Madison. But things calmed down, and we ran the final. They didn’t take the same precautions in Detroit.

“Every time the wind blows out of the west, going up the river’s current, it turns the place into a mess. (U-11 Peters & May driver) J.W. (Myers) went over in the same spot. You’re going 180 mph and into rollers, some of which are two feet deep.”

The team got the boat back to the Tukwila shop and has put in a lot of time to get things right.

“Oh Lord, we’ve put in 80 man-hours to get things fixed,” Gregory said. “We’ve gone through two weeks of projects in about four days. (Wednesday) is gonna be an all-nighter for me. We’re hoping to get on the road by noon (today).”

In the span of eight days earlier this month, Gregory experienced the elation of good racing and the depression of having a broken boat.

He would have it no other way.

“The long hours has always been a part of what we’ve done,” he said. “I remember that first full season in 1999. My goodness, that first year, all I wanted to do was work on the motors. But the boat was always beat to crap.”

Even if an unlimited doesn’t flip, there is still a lot of work to be done to get that boat ready for the next race.

“We’re pretty meticulous as a group,” Gregory said. “We go through everything hot and heavy from the weekend. So in addition to fixing the boat, we’ve had to go through our normal stuff. We made some handling changes since the last time we were here (testing in May). And again, we have to get Scott back on course, which should be no problem.”

It was Liddycoat’s first flip in an unlimited.

“We’ll get out Friday (in qualifying), make sure we get a few laps in and get ready for the race,” Gregory said.

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