The "GEICO of Lakewood Presents The Namron Racing Team" 5-Litre hydroplane sported a couple of new looks at the June 7-8 "Tastin' n Racin'" inboard hydroplane on Lake Sammamish, in Issaquah, Wash. After repairs from a flip in Arizona and damage in Richland, white primer paint covered the boat's distinctive red, white, blue and purple colors on the sponsons and entire canoe section.
The GEICO of Lakewood hull also lost about 125 pounds in the cockpit as she flew over the mile-and-a-quarter course. But it wasn't from any repairs or a special coat of primer paint. Thirty-eight-year-old rookie Brent Hall, from Bothell, Wash., made his hydroplane racing debut driving the GEICO of Lakewood hydroplane at the event in place of the 290-pound owner/driver Bud McKay. And what an impressive debut it was as he grabbed a fourth-place finish in a seven-boat APBA field -- in his very first heat of racing.
Inboard hydroplane legend Harold Mills, turned coach, was on the radio talking Hall around the course. Only thing was, the radio didn't work once Hall left the dock - Hall was on his own on the course.
“I was fine until the canopy shut,” Hall said. “The radio made a couple of quick beeps and then I couldn't hear a word Harold was saying. I remember thinking, ‘Oh well here goes nothing,’ and just tried to stay out of the way on the course.”
Hall was briefed and debriefed by Mills before and after each heat. According to Mills, Hall ran a clean and impressive heat. In fact, Mills said he raced four clean and impressive heats all weekend long. It's not uncommon at all for rookie drivers to be penalized or disqualified on the course with infractions - and those are rookies who have working radios, too.
“All of the classroom education that I gave him paid off,” Mills said with a laugh. “I bent his ear so much that I got tired of listening to myself. To go through a whole two days of driving four heats in a very competitive class, special people coming to watch him drive, and it's a big festival race, too, with no course infractions…what else can you say?”
In the first two heats on Saturday, Hall took things easy and just went out on the course and got the feel of the boat and experience in racing a hydroplane. But Sunday morning, he came to race. In heat one on Sunday, Hall got the “Flying Gecko” flying and dancing on the water, getting the attention of everyone on the shore. Not to mention an excited Mills who was sitting in turn one as a turn judge.
“To be honest my first thought when I saw him get the nose way up in the air was like that of a dad – ‘slow down!’ – I said to myself,” Mills said.”But I realized that he was OK. He brought her back down in reasonable time to show that he was aware of what was happening. I gave him an A-plus in that department because he brought her down without losing any of his forward momentum. Again, the classroom study sessions paid off.”
McKay shook his head in agreement.
“Your human survival instincts tell you to let your foot off the throttle when the boat gets in the air like that,” McKay said. “But if you do that, you’re going to blow the boat over. The smart thing to do is to do exactly what Brent did, but he still made my heart pound pretty good.”
And how did it feel inside the cockpit as Hall aired the boat out?
“The boat became unusually quiet when I was heading down the front stretch on lap three,” Hall said. “I didn't feel as though I was in danger, but I heard from others that the boat caught some pretty good air. I remember thinking, ‘Oh that is what that was?’”
In the final heat on Sunday, Hall just took it easy and tried to enjoy the moment.
“(Driving a hydroplane) was as exciting as I thought it would be,” Hall said. “But I realize now more than ever I have a lot more to learn and will be even more a student of the game so I can continue to improve my driving skills.”
And what skills he demonstrated. Asked to compare Hall’s first time out to his own, Mills said there’s no comparison.
“Open cockpit or closed cockpit Brent did way better than I ever could have imagined myself doing in my first time out,” Mills said, remembering he sank his then 145 class hydro, now the 2.5-Litre Stock, in his first race. “Even my second time out, a year later, there was no sponson walking. My sponson-walking days arrived about three years after my first race. So what does that tell you about Brent?”
And this coming from someone with more than 100 hydroplane wins under his belt who will be inducted into the “Black Ice Hockey And Sports Hall of Fame” in August.
As always, the GEICO of Lakewood Presents The Namron Racing Team likes to put in as many race fans in the cockpit at the races as possible. During Tastin’ n’ Racin’, there were two long breaks each day where fans were able to come into the pits. And thanks to Hall and Mills' work with AT&T Mobility and the "Friends of the Children" (www.friendskc.org) campaign, there was a line of children waiting to get into the GEICO of Lakewood cockpit over the weekend.
Hall said they raised nearly $4,000 -- as of Monday - for the children.
“The kids were the icing on the cake of a dream come true for me in my hydroplane racing debut,” Hall said, an AT&T Mobility manager. “Of course the kids asked the normal questions like how fast does the boat go and was I scared? I think the biggest impression was having them sit in the boat. I was a huge hydro fan at that age and because someone gave me a chance to be around the boats, I have continued that love affair with this sport ever since.”