|These photos are courtesy of Mark Sharley, thanks
On April 21st, 2001 Bruce Mills and his navigator Kyle Patrick barrel rolled and crashed at Twin Bridges while racing on Idaho's Salmon River. Bruce was killed instantly. Kyle, after struggling underwater for over a minute, was able to get out of his harness and out from under the overturned hull. Following race boats stopped and worked valiantly to right the boat, but is was already too late. I am sure that the day will be etched in those crews minds forever. Peace guys, you gotta let it go.
When someone dies, you usually hear about what a great person they were, what a shame it is and all that. Well in Bruce's case, it happens to have been true. He really was a great person and it really is a shame. Whenever you saw him at the races, you could count on him having a funny observation to tell you. He always enjoyed himself, even when things were going totally to hell for him, mysterious misfire or missing 5 mph top end, you could tell he was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing and enjoying the heck out of it. I really looked forward to meeting up with with Bruce again each year, I liked being around him. He was a happy guy, a pleasure to race with.
Bruce entered jetboat racing as Val's part time navigator and went racing occasionally with the Ramsdell's. He always called Val, "Valerie", never heard him call her anything else. I think this was about 1995 or 1996. In 1997, he bought Val and Dell's second boat, Ricochet Rabbit, kept the name and paint job, put in a big block to compete in A-class, and doubled the number from 111 to 222. That year you never saw him without a huge grin on his face. He built his own motors with a little help, did most of the work on the boat himself, and he was always ready to go.
In 1999 on the Klamath Bruce and his son Tracy ran out of the river and spun around on a gravel bar just below Surpur Creek. In the wreck he broke several ribs. In his motel room that evening the first thing he said when I came in to see him was "Whatever you do, don't make me laugh." That almost started me laughing, but I didn't. He started telling me about the crash and how he couldn't sit up straight on the gravel bar because the ends of the ribs were rubbing together. Oweee! It amazed me how off the cuff he described it, like oh yeah, I had a flat today- I guess it could have been the pain medication they gave him at the hospital (that he refused to stay in) but I doubt it, I think it was just the way he was, quietly tough.
Duane Longfellow had smoked his motor the day of the wreck in Klamath and Bruce and Duane cooked up a deal were Duane would drive Bruce's boat with Tracy navigating to help the boat turn-out for the spectators. He was hurting for sure the night of the wreck, but the next time I saw him was two weeks later at Gold Beach, and he was there ready to race. He was a good racer and really loved the sport. I'll miss him.
Sam and crew, you guys handled the whole thing just right, thank you for the perception, sensitivity and straight thinking. Thank you fans at Blackhawk, I have always thought the Marathon jetboat fans were a notch or two above average race fans and you just proved it to be true.
I don't profess to know what happened or why, but I will never quit trying to figure it out. I am sure we can all take from this tragedy some lessons or knowledge. They have been purchased for us by our fellow racer at a terrible cost and we can honor him by capitalizing on them. I think it's the very best thing we can do, the only thing we can do.