Hydro Racing

At Water Follies, '5 to the 5' is no recording

Susan Patton promises she's not a recording. For five years, she's been the voice that drivers, pit crews and race attendees hear say, "Five to the five" when it's 10 minutes before unlimited hydroplane boats at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup need to be on the river.

And her even-keeled voice doesn't seem to waver.

"I try," said Patton, whose home port is Carnation. "That way (crew members and drivers) know it's an even count."

The phrase "five to the five" seems unique to hydroplane racing.

Fred Farley, historian for H1 Unlimited, said the phrase has been around the sport for years. He and Patton said the phrase better communicates to everyone the urgency to drivers and crews to get on their marks rather than just saying "10-minute warning."

Farley said the phrase increased in popularity after Bill Sterett, a retired driver for the Miss Budweiser, used it during his days as an announcer. He embellished it with his Southern drawl from growing up in Kentucky.

Unlimited hydroplanes are a family matter for Patton. Her husband, Scott Patton, works in the tech truck checking for fuel violations on boats. Mother-in-law Diane Patton keeps the scores, while father-in-law Wes Patton works next to Susan as the official timekeeper.

Patton said she fell into the job, being appointed at the last minute. Her duties now including reviewing the race starts for violations and compiling race times. She attends each race on the circuit, from Madison through Qatar.

"I am most definitely not a recording," she said.

Saturday was the second day for the Tri-Cities' signature summer sporting event, and spectators along the Columbia River in Kennewick and Pasco found a variety of ways to have fun and stay cool in the 91-degree heat.

For example, Portland residents Brandon McCarthy, Ryan Gilsoul and Katie Pukallus found a fairly simple way to keep cool on the Kennewick side.

While other attendees kept their collapsible canopies up on the banks of the Columbia River, the trio had theirs just inside the river, allowing them to sit in the shade while the water cooled their feet. It's the first time any of them had attended Follies, but they said the great river, pleasant weather and entertaining races are incentives to return.

"Pretty sure we'll be coming back," Gilsoul, 27, said.

Cole Ramirez, 21, of Kennewick, brought a Mardi Gras flavor to Kennewick's Columbia Park with colorful strands of large beads.

Ramirez and some friends strolled through the park wearing beads and offering them up to women. He declined, however, to say what he wanted in exchange.

"I have them to give away," he said, but he didn't appear to have any takers.

On the Franklin County side, corporate tents proved to be a popular destination for those seeking a "staycation."

Energy Northwest's tent sold all of its 200 tickets for the first time since the company began attending the races eight years ago, said Kyle Sponholtz, Energy Northwest project manager.

"We have more people this year because they're looking for at-home vacations, and this is like it's in their backyard," he said.

Compared to the price of gas, plane tickets, hotels and other long-distance vacation expenses, the $50-per-person tickets into the tent are a deal, he said.

All-in-all, Saturday's festivities offered wholesome fun with few problems and minor injuries.

Pasco police Sgt. Mike Monroe said officers heard reports of a couple of swimmers refusing to get out of the water during the races, but those folks apparently got out before police could respond.

Bees stung a few people, but no serious injuries occurred, first aid volunteers said.

"The biggest thing we keep an eye on is liquor law violators," Monroe said.

But the day passed with no serious health or crime incidents, he said.

Marty Rose, an emergency medical technician for Kennewick General Hospital, said people in Columbia Park were well-behaved and for the most part doing what they should to handle the heat.

"They're drinking plenty of ice water," Rose said. "Each year, it's more family-oriented."

A few people came in to be treated for blisters or for scrapes caused by falling on rocks in the river, but nothing serious, Rose said.