Hydro Racing

Royal Order of the Turbine a friendly cabal of hydro fans

Mac Clouse didn't know what to think of the Royal Order of the Turbine at first.

He's been a fan of unlimited hydroplane racing for years, attending races in Seattle when he was growing up in Longview. As he got to know other fans and racing team members, he said he'd hear them talk about the order.

"Who is this exclusive club?" he wondered.

Clouse, webmaster for H1 Unlimited, discovered the order was anything but sinister about 20 years ago when he attended his first Tri-City race and went to the Royal Order of the Turbine's annual banquet.

"When you get there, you discover it's all very much tongue-in-cheek," he said, laughing.

The group of unlimited hydroplane enthusiasts, who also refer to themselves as "ROTTarians," have met in the Tri-Cities for 25 years, jokingly penalizing each other for gaffes and mocking themselves with their tabloid-like annual publication.

Members said the group, which scheduled its annual meeting Saturday night for the Country Gentleman restaurant in Kennewick, has a fun yet serious mission of promoting hydroplane racing and keeping its community connected.

"You share the camaraderie of boat racing and love it," said member Reggie Frederick, who works in public relations for Jones Racing with U-9 Les Schwab presents Sound Propellor Services.

The group began in 1987 when its nine founders were having dinner at the now-defunct Black Angus restaurant in Pasco. During the meal, member Bob Flajole stood up, fashioned a waiter's towel into a turban and proclaimed himself "Pubah of the Royal Order of the Turbine."

And the organization was born.

More hydroplane enthusiasts, including Frederick, were invited in 1988, and the group decided to meet annually in the Tri-Cities for fellowship and recognition of people -- inside and outside "The Royal Order" -- for contributions to the sport.

Den mother Kim Forsell, who is with U-17 Miss Red Dot, said there are more than 70 members, and the order is open to any diehard fan of unlimited hydroplanes.

"Anybody can come, but everyone thinks you have to come with a friend and that it's like the Masons or something," she said.

The group levies "fines" and stages an annual auction to raise between $1,200 and $1,500 per year, which is donates to the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame and Museum in Kent.

Frederick said the club is regularly the largest contributor to the museum each year.

Members said it's not difficult to get fined.

If a member sees you not wearing the commemorative button handed out at the Water Follies each year, that costs you $2.

Frederick was fined $20 in the 1990s after he was seen chatting with hydroplane broadcaster Jim Hendrick, who was humorously viewed as a "homer" for the Miss Budweiser team. Members of the order are forbidden to speak of the Miss Bud because of its past dominance of the boat races, Frederick said.

Founding member Mike Fitzsimmons said he's been fined for red boats on the buttons he designs for members each year.

Bob Senior, a member who's attended the Tri-City races since they began in 1966, once tattled on his wife to the order's membership after she fell in the water while working with a boat.

"She got fined $2 for falling, and I got fined $2 for being a fink," he said.

Then there's the annual edition of The Dryland Racer's Enquirer, a spoof of the tabloid National Enquirer that features altered photos of order members. This year, it featured heads of several club members pasted onto the bodies of male dancers.

The 2007 edition featured a mock-up of Forsell as Wonder Woman.

Humor aside, group members said they work hard to make sure people who are dedicated to hydroplane racing are recognized. Each year, the group gives out a lifetime achievement award to reward pit crew members, media and others for their work. This year's award went to the staff of the Unlimited News Journal, which has covered the sport for the past 30 years, Frederick said.

The group didn't have anything special set up for Saturday's banquet, Frederick said, just a cake to go along with the meal commemorating the order's 25th anniversary.

However, Frederick said he expected to get fined not only for sharing the Hendrick story to the Herald, but also for mentioning the Miss Budweiser.

"They'll get me on that, but that's OK," he said laughing.