KENNEWICK -- Things got a little more fun and exciting Wednesday for both the media and hydroplane race fans.
After a seven-year layoff, Mark Evans will be back driving an unlimited hydroplane at this weekend's Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.
Evans, who lives in Chelan, will pilot the U-57 Formulaboats.com. It will be a backup boat for Ted Porter's fleet, which also includes the U-5 Formulaboats.com and the U-7 Graham Trucking.
The 53-year-old driver -- who has 10 unlimited victories -- last raced on the Columbia in 2003, when he won the Columbia Cup in the U-8 Llumar Windows.
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One month later, he suffered a broken leg in a devastating flip and crash at the Detroit Gold Cup, and he hasn't driven an unlimited since.
Until this weekend.
"I really am excited," said Evans. "It was unexpected. I was talking to Ted Porter (Tuesday night) and his phone kept breaking up."
So Evans waited until Wednesday morning to confirm things with Porter.
What the media is going to get is another driver whose outgoing personality will make him a favorite. And the fans, they'll get a guy who will spend as much time as possible with them.
Evans is the driver who drove the Llumar, the Budweiser, the Elam Plus and the Pico to victories.
He would take pictures of fans on the shoreline from inside the cockpit while driving. He'd come perilously close to driving under the blue bridge.
And, after a victory, he'd climb out of the cockpit and dance on top of the boat.
He'd stayed away from Lampson Pits the last two years, because he'd get the racing itch and couldn't do anything about it.
"I wasn't really sure (I'd get another chance)," Evans said. "I've been taking life really casual. There are so many new good drivers, so many good boats. This happened to come along. I'm happy to help the guys out."
But there's work to be done.
Jim Harvey, who has been the crew chief for Fred Leland's U-100, is coming over to get the boat put together.
"He told me he was going to pick up two engines and a gearbox today," Evans said.
The boat is a hull Porter bought from the late Kim Gregory.
"It's an old Winston Eagle," Evans said. "It's got a new cockpit."
But because Evans hasn't raced an unlimited in so long, he has to re-qualify as a driver and get 15 laps of at least 130 mph in on the Columbia. If he does that, he still has to trail the field in his first competitive heat.
Either way, the agreement is that if anything happens to the U-5 or the U-7, Evans will step aside for those drivers (Jeff Bernard in the U-5 and J. Michael Kelly in the U-7) so that they can go after national high points.
Evans hasn't been idle, however, when it comes to boat racing.
He has a blown-alcohol Grand Prix boat he races, and he's won three of five races he's competed in.
"It's half the weight of an unlimited at 3,000 pounds," he said. "At 1500 horsepower, it's half the horsepower of an unlimited. And it can hit 170 mph on a good day."
Evans is bringing along a couple of his Grand Prix crew members, Tony Scharf and Craig Boner, the Grand Prix boat owner Bob Schellhase, and John Walker, a crew member of the U-3 Cooper's team, which isn't competing this season.
He knows there's a difference in driving the two types of boats.
"Violent," Evans said. "That's the word, violent, inside (the unlimited). I got a couple extra pounds on me. But I feel strong, I feel great. The leg that hurt so bad is feeling great. My neck that I cracked in 2003, I'm wearing the HANS device and it feels great."
And driving on the Columbia River once again will feel great too.
"I've had three wins here, and the last one in the Llumar was fantastic," he said. "My family and friends are here. It's like in my backyard. The Tri-Cities has been pretty good to me.
"I'm going to enjoy getting back in a boat."