Hydro Racing

Evans back in his element roaming the pits

The last winner of the Columbia Cup who isn't named Villwock couldn't take two steps without a friendly hand reaching out, followed by a "nice to see ya” or a "how ya doin'?”

A solid block of one-on-one time with Mark Evans doesn't come easy, at least not down near the Lampson Pits in Columbia Park.

The popular and genial former unlimited hydroplane racer, who won the Columbia Cup in 2003 before Dave Villwock reeled off four in a row, was back in his element Friday, soaking in an event he was won three times over the years.

"I like being in the pits again,” Evans said with a smile.

Evans brought his four-seat hydroplane to Lampson Pits this weekend, showing what he's done to it since it last was here as an enclosed cockpit with turbines.

Now it's an open cockpit with two large outboard motors.

Evans says the boat can get up to 60 mph on the straightaway.

It's been two years since the Chelan racer has been to the Columbia Cup and five years since the day that ended his unlimited hydro career.

"It's hard to be around racing when you're not driving,” he said. "It drove me crazy.”

His blowover at the 2003 Gold Cup in Detroit - less than a month after his win in the Tri-Cities - left him with serious injuries and 18 months of rehab.

"I broke my leg clean in half, both bones,” he said, before ticking off the rest. "Broke my neck, broke my ribs, smashed up my elbow, rearranged a few organs.”

A staph infection nearly cost him his right leg and forced doctors to remove the titanium rod and screws they had inserted. Evans being Evans, he took the medical hardware and attached them to the cane he used after finally getting off crutches.

He estimates the medical bills came to more than half a million bucks, and he's still paying off that nut.

"That paperwork was like a full-time job,” he said.

It was a long, painful, miserable time.

It was the fourth time Evans had flipped a boat, and he said he's had scarier moments.

A wreck in Hawaii in 1997 sheered the entire roof off the canopy.

"I woke up upside down, and my airmask was in my ear because my helmet was turned around,” he said. "The canopy was filling up with water.”

"My first thought was that I was probably bleeding from somewhere. My second thought was hammerhead sharks. I kicked down and got the hell out of there.”

But the Detroit crash was different.

A year later, while still rehabbing the leg, Evans climbed back in the cockpit of the Llumar boat - another driver was racing it - just to take a few laps. It was on the same course in Detroit.

"Down the straightaway, I was fine,” he said. "But I came to that same spot, and I pulled my foot off the gas. That was it.”

It was the end of a career that started rather dubiously in 1969 at the ripe ol' age of 12.

His father, Norm, was a hydroplane racer and was racing "regular boats” on Lake Chelan.

He thought it was a good time for his son to begin his career, even if the race organizers thought he was far too young.

But Norm Evans had a plan.

"He said, ‘When I tell you to hit the throttle, just mash it.' ”

Mark jumped in the boat, and as Norm leaned down as if to get in and drive, he gave his son the word, and his son took off.

"That was the first boat race I won,” he said with a laugh. "I got a little bitty trophy.”

Evans and his brother Mitch grew up racing snowmobiles, boats, cars, whatever. They both retired from hydros in 2003 - Mitch runs a business caring for boats for summertime residents of Lake Chelan and also builds racing sleds.

He said he's not surprised his brother is getting back into racing: "Not at all. It's tough, though, once you've been involved so many years as we have.”

And when Mark starts talking about racing?

"I plug my ears and keep my head down.”

But Mark doesn't plan on racing long term. He's concentrating on building a shop in Chelan to work on race boats.

"I love building 'em,” he said, "and I can help some kids, teach 'em to drive. Mentor them.”

Proving that you can take the man out of the race, but you can't take the race out of the man.