Nate Brown knows when to make an exit.
And in these next few weeks, his time in unlimited hydroplanes will have come to an end.
The owner of the 17 Our Gang Racing unlimited hydroplane is bringing his boat to the HAPO Columbia Cup this week, to Seafair next week and then he plans to park the boat and look for somebody to buy it.
“Life is a bunch of experiences,” said Brown. “It’s not about things. It’s about experiences. It’s time. I’m 55. It’s time to stretch my horizon and mix it up a bit.
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“I’ve got nothing against the sport,” he continued. “In fact, most of us on our team are in our late 50s. It’s time to do other things. I want to take my cruiser out into the San Juan Islands. Right now, to be owner in this sport is too time consuming and too expensive.”
So to go out in style, Brown is trying something pretty cool: he’s taking donations from fans, who can then sign their name on the boat.
It’s called the I was Part of the Gang, and it goes like this:
w For $25, a fan can be in the Skid Fin group. That fan gets to sign the boat and a commemorative button.
w For $75, the fan can be part of the Turbine group. They get to sign the boat, get the button and get a commemorative T-shirt.
w And for the small price of $3,500, a person can be in the Gold Cup group. They get all of the above, plus a 2013 Gold Cup champion ring (but there are only three available).
Brown said fans will have to leave their mailing address to get the T-shirt.
Brown has these set up at his team’s website at www.ourgangracing.com/index.html; they can be purchased through Visa, Mastercard or PayPal.
A fan pays here, they get their name on the boat for both Tri-Cities and Seattle races.
After Brown is finished paying for expenses to run the boat, he will donate the rest of the money to the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.
“I really hope I can write them a check for $50,000,” he said.
If fans want to pay in person, the team will have the boat at the Kennewick Albertsons store at 5204 West Clearwater from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday before moving to the Columbia Center Mall from 4 to 6 p.m. and then finally into Lampson Pits.
For Brown, it’s the end of an era.
A long-time crew member, then driver and now owner in the sport, Brown started Our Gang Racing back in 2006 as a group project with some of his buddies.
They built an unlimited hydroplane from scratch and then raced it on the H1 circuit — sometimes with great success.
But it was never meant to be an open-ended project.
“Our first year of actual racing was in 2007,” he said. “We were going to do it for five years. It’s been a lot longer than that. It was a dream of mine, and it turned into an opportunity for the crew. These guys helped me fulfill my dream.”
This off season, he and the team made a decision.
“We took a vote,” Brown said. “If we could get a sponsor, we would continue another season. The team decided if we didn’t get another sponsor, we’d put it together for Tri-Cities and Seattle, and that’s it.”
So Brown says the boat is officially for sale.
“I hope I find a buyer,” he said. “I’d really like to find somebody in the Tri-Cities who’d be interested in it. Not for anything more than we need to have more city to city competitiveness.”
The boat is pretty fast too.
“It’s not a slow boat,” Brown said. “It’s got more equipment than anybody outside of maybe Oberto. It has 3.5 engines, 16 propellers, three sets of wings, and more.”
And with his nephew, Kip Brown, leaving the team and now driving for the 96 Spirit of Qatar, he’s found a good driver with Jeff Bernard.
“He’s a great driver,” said Brown. “He’s a cool cat behind the wheel. He’s a student of hydroplane racing. He know more about the rule book than I’ll ever know.”
And Bernard knows the boat.
“In 2012 I drove it at Seafair,” he said. “It’ll be probably one of the toughest races this year to make the final in Tri-Cities. Everybody seems to have stepped up their program. And right now we’re kind of a middle-of-the-pack boat.”
Brown said he got the idea of signing the boat from the old days, when fans signed Fred Leland’s Miss Rock hull in the 1980s.
That’s when he got into the sport himself.
“I got into the sport to have fun,” he said. “I want to leave this sport having fun.”
It won’t be easy though.
“It’s gonna be an interesting and emotional Seafair for me,” he said. “I hope to get into the cockpit this weekend one more time in testing.”
But this final project should be fun.
“It’s gonna be a good time,” Brown said. “I don’t know how it’ll go. But I really hope I can write a huge fat check to the Ronald McDonald House and help some kids. It’s those kinds of things that make me want to do it.”