Hydro Racing

July 31, 1989: 'Hooray for pistons'

Mitch Evans celebrated his Columbia Cup victory by gulping expensive champagne from a plastic cup.

What better way for this working-class hero, whose piston-powered hydroplane was held together by yards of duct tape and tons of faith, to celebrate a stunning victory over the sleek, turbine-charged Miss Budweiser.

"Hooray for pistons," shouted Evans.

Evans' victory, his first on the unlimited hydroplane circuit, capped a dramatic, sometimes frightening day of racing on the wind-whipped waters of the Columbia River.

Water Follies officials estimated a crowd of 30,000 hydroplane fans witnessed Sunday's race, which was held in 94-degree heat and winds that gusted to 34 m.p.h.

Sunday begin with two near roll overs, the first by the Circus Circus and the second by Pringle's, before concluding with Evans' improbable victory over the Miss Budweiser.

The Miss Bud, driven by Tom D'Eath, beat Evans across the finish line, but after the race, D'Eath was assessed a one-lap penalty for cutting off Mike Hanson, driver of the Miss Mazda.

The infraction occurred on the west turn during the fourth lap of the five-lap final.

"Mike was within five boat lengths of the Miss Budweiser, which meant Tom had to leave him a lane," said chief referee Paul McKee. "But Tom did not do that."

D'Eath was in lane four as he steered the Miss Budweiser down the backstretch, McKee said, but when the boat exited the corner, it was straddling lanes one and two. Miss Bud's wandering roostertail washed over the Miss Mazda, eliminating Hanson from what had been a three-boat race.

"I only had eight or nine feet to put this 14-foot boat in," said Hanson. "I got past the entrance buoy, but the right sponson was in the roostertail. I took my foot off the gas, but when I put it back on the engine was dead."

With Hanson struggling to restart his engine, the race boiled down to a one-lap sprint between Evans, driving the $30,000 Cooper's Express, and D'Eath, piloting the $500,000 Miss Bud.

D'Eath who intentionally eased off the throttle to make the race competitive, beat Evans to the finish line by a large margin. It wasn't until Evans, a 28-year-old marina owner from Chelan, was met by a cheering throng at the dock that he realized D'Eath had been penalized and that he was the winner.

"I never let the pressure off," said Evans. "This is the fastest this boat has ever gone. I was going to let it go or let it blow."

Hanson finished in second place followed by D'Eath in third and Steve David (Pietro's Pizza) in fourth.

George Woods Jr. (Oh Boy! Oberto) and Ron Snyder (Miss Tri-Cities) also qualified for the final heat but did not finish the race.

Evans averaged 113.531 m.p.h. during the 10-mile final and pocketed the first-place prize of $23,920.

D'Eath said one reason he didn't see the Miss Mazda was because the two-way radio on the Miss Budweiser was broken, preventing him from communicating with his crew.

"I had no idea anyone was catching up to me until I saw Cooper's Express in the mirror," said D'Eath, who added that he "usually tries to win by going as slowly as possible.

"That particular strategy got me in trouble this time," he added. "I'm not embarrassed by what happened. I'm human. I make mistakes. I'm a gentleman, and I don't intentionally put water on anyone."

The final heat was delayed when the Winston Eagle, driven by Larry Lauterbach, went dead in the water near the starting line. A small fire started on the boat, but Lauterbach doused the flames with an onboard extinguisher system.

That was one of several problems experienced by the turbine boats Sunday.

The Circus Circus, driven by Chip Hanauer, dropped out of contention after breaking a rudder mount during a morning test run. The broken rudder sent the boat into a violent side spin before it came to a halt. Hanauer was not injured.

That was the second broken rudder in two days for the Circus Circus. The boat's crew spent $10,000 in man-hours and parts to fix the first broken rudder, which occurred during Friday's qualifying.

Crew chief Dave Villwock said the Circus Circus will be repaired in time to enter this week's Rainier Cup in Seattle.

Mr. Pringle's sustained heavy damage to the rear of the boat when it corkscrewed across the water during Heat 1-B. That was the third serious accident for the Pringle's this season. Driver Scott Pierce injured his knee in the accident, which sidelined the boat for the remainder of the day.

The Pringle's is also expected to compete this week in Seattle.

With the turbine boats falling out of contention one-by-one Sunday, that opened the door for Evans' and his ear-splitting Cooper's Express.

"The way the cards were falling today, anything could have happened," said Evans. "This was a typical boat race. Things just get crazier and crazier."

Then Evans picked up the cork from his champagne bottle and autographed it for a young fan.