One simple gesture 43 years ago has led to a long-lasting relationship for Gary Spanner and the Miss Madison — now the U-6 Oberto.
“Our family boat was a patrol boat, so I had a pit pass,” Spanner recalled Friday before the Oberto ran away with the top prize in the Dash For Cash at the HAPO Columbia Cup. “I was hanging out and I was handing a guy nuts and bolts. They asked me if I wanted to wash the boat.”
Spanner, who was 17 in 1971, also waxed the boat, which was made of wood back then.
“The crew chief was not happy that I waxed it,” Spanner said. “But he saw I was a hard worker.”
The Miss Madison went on to win the Atomic Cup in 1971, and Spanner became part of the family.
It would be another 37 years before the boat, now the Oberto, won a race — 2007 in Seafair — when Spanner was lending a hand. Since then it has been at or near the top of the standings the last seven years.
“It had won other races, but I wasn’t there,” Spanner said. “I do mostly the northwest races. I always do Tri-City and Seattle, and sometimes San Diego.”
And, winning the Columbia Cup comes with more than a trophy and bragging rights. It comes with a tree — a big shade tree at the east end of the pits. It was saved by Bernie Little, the late owner of Miss Budweiser, years ago and is highly coveted by the teams.
“The winner gets the tree, and that makes a huge difference,” Spanner said of working in the shade instead of the scorching sun.
Spanner, a 1972 graduate of Columbia High School in Richland, has been loyal to the Miss Madison family over the years. The boat has had many different names. It has gone from a wooden piston-powered boat to the sleek turbine beauty that won the Columbia Cup last year.
“In 1976 when I graduated from college, I borrowed $250 from my dad, loaded up my car and went back to Madison (Ind.) and worked on the boat,” he said.
Spanner, who has worked for Battelle for 32 years — the last 20 as the Manager of Economic Development — no longer washes the boat, but he still gets his hands dirty, as he did Friday changing out a gear box.
“I mostly do engine work now,” he said. “I figured it up one time, and I’ve spent two full years in this. That is lot of time to be around boats. I have a boat addiction.”
The one thing he has not done is drive the boat.
“I’ve never been in it. I’ve never driven it,” he said. “The turbines are so complicated to drive.”
His longevity in the sport also has brought out the hoarder in Spanner.
“I counted my shirts a couple of year ago, and I had around 400,” he said. “I throw nothing away. Some of them are pretty old.”
Like friendships, some things last forever.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com; Twitter: tchicequeen