Mark Evans knows how to turn a troubling incident into an advantage.
On Saturday during Heat 1A of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup, Evans had to shut his U-57 Formulaboat.com Tire Factory down when he felt a violent vibration — the result of a broken propeller blade that could have caused sever damage to the hull.
So while he was being towed back to the pits, he decided to bond with his fans along the Kennewick side of the Columbia River.
He got out and danced on his boat.
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He cheered with them.
And he took pictures.
Evans loves interacting with the fans.
“I was pointing to our (Tire Factory) sign and said ‘Buy tires, please,’” he said. “I know how a rock star feels with the crowd. I raise my left arm, they raise theirs. I raise my right, they raise theirs. I raise both, they raise both. I do this little dance, they do the dance. It’s my only experience of being on the stage, and I like to play the part.”
The taking pictures part has been a long-time hobby of his since his days of driving the Miss Budweiser in the 1990s.
He has a disposable camera in the cockpit at all times, and when he can he shoots pictures.
On Saturday, he had some extra time to do that.
“I’m starting to try to compile them and put them in books,” he said. “One of my next books is going to be all photos. I’ve got a lot of bird-flippers in there.”
Evans has a book out on himself, Dancing With Disaster.
w Kelly Stocklin got his U-18 Bucket List Racing boat out on the water Saturday morning and completed some laps.
Last winter, Stocklin — a veteran inboard racer — got the approval of H1 Unlimited racing officials to take a G Class automotive-powered boat and turn it into a Lycoming T-53 turbine boat.
He had hoped to have it ready for the season opener in Madison, Ind. Didn’t happen. Then maybe Detroit. No way.
But he was here this weekend in Lampson Pits, setting up camp under Bernie Little’s tree at the west end of the pits, right next to the U-1 Spirit of Qatar team.
Friday’s qualifying session was rough, as he didn’t complete a lap.
Finally, on Saturday morning, he was able to get out on the river and complete some laps. But he couldn’t get over the required 130 mph minimum lap speed to officially qualify.
Mitch Evans, the crew chief of the U-57 Formulaboats.com/Tire Factory, asked Stocklin how fast he was going in the morning.
“I was going 129, 129, 129, 129, 129,” Stocklin said as the other drivers laughed.
At the driver’s meeting Saturday, chief referee Mike Noonan hoped to find some time in the afternoon for Stocklin to get on the water and hit 130 mph.
“As part of his qualifying, he also has to compete in heat races,” Noonan said. “We’ll try to put him in a heat this afternoon.”
Stocklin hit a couple of those 130-plus laps, and he competed in Heat 1C, finishing fifth.
“It felt great,” said Stocklin, who is beached for today but will resume qualifying next week at Seafair. “It was pretty bumpy back there, starting behind the other boats.”
This project has been a labor of love.
“It’s designed to run 170 mph down the chutes,” he said. “I’m trying to get this thing to behave itself. Learning it. I worked on this boat every day, all day, for three months. Upgrading this thing to an unlimited has a lot of rules — as it should be — so it’s taken a lot of work.”
Because of that, Stocklin hasn’t had much of a social life for a while.
“My wife misses me very much,” he joked.
But the project has been worth the sacrifice, he said, as he pointed to his team name on his racing shirt.
“Bucket List Racing,” he said. “What’s on yours?”
w Nate Brown placed third driving his U-17 Miss Red Dot in heat 1C.
It was the first time in two years he’d raced an unlimited. He was forced to do it when his nephew, Kip Brown, broke his tibia in a testing accident Friday.
“It’s like riding a bike that you’re always falling off of,” said Nate, who is shorter than Kip and adjusted things in the cockpit. “We stuck a chunk of foam behind me.”
Still, he wasn’t totally pleased with his third-place finish.
“I was driving into a hole,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time and I know you can’t do that. The boat was trying to hook because I was going too slow at the start. I’ve done better.”
w Leslie “Poodle” Warren was shaking with excitement once she completed her first Grand Prix West heat in the GP-43 ExtremePlay Racing.
“I don’t have a frame of reference to compare it to,” said Warren, who finished third behind Greg Hopp and David Warren (no relation). “I never thought this would happen.”
In Friday’s Dash for Cash, Leslie Warren became the first woman to race a Grand Prix West boat competitively in the United States. But the Tacoma resident is not the first woman to drive a hydroplane in the Tri-Cities.
That honor belongs to Brenda Jones in the early 1980s.
And last year, Bianca Bononcini got some seat time as a development series driver with the U-57 Formulaboats.com. In 2009 and 2010, Kayleigh Perkins won the Unlimited Lights Atomic Cup.
“Fortunately, it’s becoming that more women are seeing it as a possibility,” Warren said.
w Once some directional confusion is cleared up, perhaps crew chief Steve Payne would be willing to grant Rob Wheeler’s wish to take the 1955 U-60 Miss Thriftway up the Columbia River.
Wheeler, a co-owner of the vintage hydroplane, wants to make a left turn before Howard Amon Park. The boat cannot make right turns.