Grants Pass, Oregon, late spring 1963.
A skinny blond eight year old kid rides his bike down off of Foothill Boulevard early in the morning on Memorial Day weekend. He's got a paper sack containing his lunch, consisting of a jar of deviled chicken and a quart mayonaisse jar of icy-cold Kool-aid in an old green ammo box that is plumbers taped and bolted to the handlebars of his bike. (Those grocery cart looking bike baskets were for sissies!) He's headed for the park in Grants Pass to watch the race boats. It's Boatnik Weekend! He get's to the park early, before any of the boats are even in the water, just to make sure he he is there to see the whole spectacle.
That was me. I grew up in Grants Pass, hearing all the stories about the river, about Glen Wooldridge who was my Grandpa's friend, running all the way to the coast from Grants Pass, about running Dunn and Chair and Galice, about blowing a channel around Rainy Falls with dynamite, storys of many, many trips hauling an entire lodge downriver, ten - twenty foot long two by eights at a time. Deer hunting, popping the weekends meat from the boat out in the river. Good storys told by good old men who re-lived there glory days out on the river again with the telling. That was what the Rogue was for me until I started racing.
Grants Pass 41 years later- It's the same river, the same riffles, but I'm not paddling through or chugging through at 15 mph. I'm howling through, the motor pulling up as high as it can against the impeller, hard as the boat will run, hard is it will corner. Doing my level best to knock another 5 seconds off the last leg's time if I can. Me and Lynn and the boat are three separate pieces of one single minded goal: run the miles as quickly, rightously and cleanly as possible.
Since we've been racing, we've never done well here. Acceptable or adequate sometimes, absolutely awful more often than we would have liked. We've never really done a good job in Grants Pass, the best we've done was just OK the worst we've done was abysmal.
We've got a new boat this year. It ain't really new, it's just new to us. I and my friend and crewchief, Bob McKellar, spent last winter rebuilding Derek Ely's rocket #11 River Wild hull. Derek did spectacularly well with this boat, but he's a real driver too. He's pretty darn fast in just about ANY boat. Derek is a good guy and knew how much I liked the boat, so he made me a good deal on it. I was hoping some of the magic would rub off on team Raven.
Neither Bob nor I have ever built or rebuilt an aluminum boat, let alone a boat as radically different as this one. This was the first boat that River Wild built of their much superior second design. Super fast but also super light. Bob and I got a few things a little off in the rebuild too. Not much, and a pretty damn good job, if I do say so myself, considering our lack of experience, but the boat wasn't quite exactly right. We got a good indication of it's potential with our testing program at home and at Roseburg (before the crash), and it's a damn fast little boat. It didn't feel quite right there cornering, nor at Hoopa. In fact it was downright evil at Hoopa.
I got several good pointers from the guys who DID build it, applied those ideas before Grants Pass, and the boat is now "sweet". I love driving it, it's solid and stable, handles like a Miata and literally dances over bumpy stuff. I think we finally added enough bracing and welds to get ahead of the continual cracking problems. The motor was still as strong as when I first built it and the pump setup was a good match for the motor. The point of all this is, I was ready to run hard at Grants Pass.
Friday pre-run and Tech Inspection
Jim Ely gave us a look at the river from his Dad's boat. I spent some time trying to tune it as we went, but I couldn't get it to run right. Along about Griffin Park we had to do some paddling and Jim showed me a real cool way to warp over to the beach with just an anchor.
The tech in was held at the McDonald's and the little parking lot we had was barely adequate for the 19 boats that showed up to race. There were seven FX boats, one big block FX, eight B-boats and three A-boats.
Below is the list in no particular order, separated by class.
#26 Jack Patterson
# 8 Bill and Will
#22 Rich Boice
#16 Jesse LaForest
#13 Merv George
#07 Greg Hegemeir
#16x Jim Ely
#70 Dean Saxon
#169 Brodie Miller
#155 Scott Adams
#114 Gary Padgett
#188 Steve Hanlin
#182 Dave Provost
#244 Dwain Longfellow
#163 Duane Labrum
#180 Chuck Thompson
#216 Barry Pelkey
#277 Paul Bagshaw
#295 Bob White
Been talking to Scott Adams and his dad here and there, I'm curious about the other racing they do, Sprint Car racing.
If you've looked in their boat, #155, you might have noticed a unique steering gear setup. It's mounted on a nice set of brackets welded to the floor and sticks up with a back angle on the steering shaft of about 10 degrees. In other words, the wheel itself is mostly horizontal, just like in the race car pictured above. Scott says he was a little un-nerved by how loose feeling most boat steering is (most of them feel like you could tear them out of the dash with a little effort) and was used to a horizontal setup so that's how he built it. It is VERY sturdy.
Another cool thing is, they are using the sprint car motors that Scott's dad built for the above car. They primarily use the one made for short tracks as it is built to have more mid range grunt than the long track motor. As well as it pushes the boat, I can't begin to imagine what the acceleration was like hooked to a set of tires and shoving a light sprint car! Scott says the acceleration is nothing compared to the cornering the car can generate. The bumps in the side of the cockpit on the car are for Scott's elbows, one of which he has had to have rebuilt. (His elbow, not the bump in the cockpit.)
I think the coolest thing of all is that this is another father/son team, like Brodie and Dennis Miller, Bill and Gary Padgett, Barry and Charlie Pelkey, Garth and Randy Sundberg and let's not forget Spencer and Russel King.
This race was the first race for Dave Provost's new boat. He has been scrambling to get it together. I had stopped by the shop about a month ago and he was just finishing welding the bottom on at that time.
All the way from Idaho were Duane and Gary Labrum, Dwain and Gary Longfellow ( maybe could call them South Duane and Gary and North Dwain and Gary?) and Chuck Thompson and Jim Madden from Grangeville.
Steve Hanlin was back with a new hull and a spare motor. Not a quitter in the crowd, eh?
New racers, Bill and Will, sorry guys I neglected to get your last names- with a sprint hull, but a fast combo none the less. Welcome to the goofy world of jetboat racing!
The Pelkeys were up for this race too. Yahoo!
Four River Wild hulls at this race, Bob White, Dave Provost, Rich Boice and us. Also, a boat I have been watching closely, Dean Saxon's 90+ mph big block FX.
I am missing seeing the Chandlers at the races. Maybe we'll get to see them again someday? It was a really great show that those guys and the Bagshaws put on the last few years, thanks for the memories I guess- Hoepfully they are just taking a break.
The Calcutta was held at the Activity Center or the Cultural Center or whatever it's called? right by the Riverside Inn. Good turnout this year, at least double of last year. We still want to be in the parade.
Both days legs went like this: a short down and back in the morning, about 6 miles, then a long down and back to Robertson Bridge in the afternoon, about 15 miles. The long one include Finley Bend and Brushy Chutes, two cool places on this section of the river.
The short leg was just sort of a morning eye-opener. Just as good as a cup of coffee from Dutch Brothers, but quite a bit more expensive.
Some impressions from watching from back in the pack:
Watching Bob White and Richard Clark leave the line in #295, it's awesome, they accelerate like a drag boat, but then keep on going through the lights at the end of the quarter mile and disappear around the corner. Too cool!
Seeing Paul Bagshaw and Rob Soule #277 Unpredictable's precision starting. Same way every time, they hit the line just right each time, and I've seen it fifty times at least.
All the different techniques, like sneaking up on the flaggers then blasting off when they least expect it. Running parralel to the line then turn across it on the flag. Getting there 5 seconds late, the watchers in the boat giving you the "Move Along, nothing to see here." hand signal. The starts with a stick in the pump. Nose high, motor screaming but it won't tip over. Go around in circles with the nose way up, whip it back and forth, but usually the only thing to do is land it, shut off the motor and hope the stick floats loose.
I am sorry for describing the antics, I know all you A-class guys don't get to hang around long enough to see this stuff, but it's a good show, sorry you have to miss it. Us FX'ers in the back get to see it all. We all watch close too!
Merv and Horse were running real fast, but real wild with Yellowhammer, #13. The boat was doing a very aggressive chine dance that was directly proportional to hull speed. The faster they went, the bigger the sine wave! I talked to Merv later, and the way he describes using the chine dance to con the boat is hilarious! He would time when it was going to roll the way he wanted to go then he would jab the wheel in that direction. The boat would move over towards were he wanted to go. When it rolled that way again, he would jab the wheel over again. The boat moved over again. It sounds simple, but it probably wasn't too simple at the time, I got to hand it to him for working out a way to keep running hard instead of just dogging down the river at 60 mph. Also, you got to get him to tell you the story, it is just too funny!!!! In one of Merv's other lives he is a drummer and I am sure his finely honed sense of timing from being a drummer helped him out here. He's got rhythm!
Greg Hegemeir #07 Gone in Seven Seconds, was stuck in pretty good. They were still kind of having fun but you could tell they weren't exactly ecstatic about going slower than they were used to. I think they were off by about 4 mph.
Jim Ely and Chris Sackett were running #16x Raven for all it was worth, but it's only worth 79 mph and that's with a whole bunch of wind under the nose. I didn't see much wind Saturday.
Rich Boice and Gary were doing business, no problems, just running.
Jack Patterson was doing his normal clean runs, and Bill and Will, whos last names I didn't get, were ripping right along too. They were going surprisingly well for a sprint hull, not too bad!
Me and Lynn had good runs, the boat felt right and it was doing everything like it was supposed to. At first. The last run up, I heard what I was sure was a lifter getting really loud or something like that. Didn't lose any RPM and it didn't get any worse, so what the heck, keep on trucking. Dumb and lucky, an unbeatable combination! It turned out to be a rocker ball going bad, chewing up, getting thinner and increasing the clearance on #5 exhaust. I am not too sure WHY it didn't lose any RPM, but it didn't. We went to the gathering at Dean's Dutch Boy Paints and while there I took valve covers off and found it. From there we went to that parts house that Dave reccomended a couple of years ago with the cute name, which I can't remember. You know, the one that supports the Hydros, has pictures and stuff of them? Nice folks, the counter guy went through book after book, finally resorted to going upstairs and opening boxes trying to find me a new rocker and ball. To no avail. He asked a more experienced guy that was also there and he said parts houses don't stock self-aligning rockers! They don't fail enough to have them on hand. The rocker looked like it would live with a little work with some emery cloth so I bought a rocker ball for a normal SBC rocker, which does fit nicely, thank you. Only cost 50 cents and it was a grooved one. Back to my shop, (the motel parking lot) and change the rocker ball. Boat Racing: the art of working on your boat in strange and exotic places like the parking lot of the Royal Vue Inn.
We ate every night at Hart's restaurant, right there at the motel. It's billed as a fifties joint, and it is, but the gem of the place is that the food is genuine home cooking. Really good, every time. They also had comics over the weekend in the bar, but we didn't do that. We just hung out with Chris and Sarah, Lynn's daughter and son-in-law, (who is also Jim Ely's navigator), and played with Clayton, Lynn's grandson (and mine by proxy).
Saturday all in all, was a pretty good day for everybody, except that Dwain and Gary (North Dwain and Gary, otherwise known as the Longfellows) burnt a plug wire on the down leg of the second leg. They ran all the way down on seven cylinders with their elapsed time being what you would expect for a high performance boat running on seven cylinders. That one run effectively took them out of a podium finish, ouch!
I didn't get to see the official times until Sunday morning, and was quite surprised to see we were right there with Merv! He did get us by six seconds, wild chine dance, impromptu driving technique and all...
Again we got to watch Bob White's drag start and Paul and Rob's precision start. Not that all their starts always go so well, on the first down run they were red flagged just as they were taking there valid start flag at the park in Grants Pass, the first time I ever saw that! Something not right further down the course I heard, and they had to try and get landed and turned around just below Park Riffle. They smacked a rock, a big dent in the old Unpredictable. They did get to start, and they came back upriver, but after doing the short run decided the boat was too messed up to continue and parked it. I think I heard Paul say unhappily later "Aw, what the hell's another dent?" Not something Paul would usually be saying.
The big yellow A-boat of Barry and Charlie Pelkey committed sideways and the motor gobbled itself up. They were done and tied up at the bottom of the first down leg.
The river had gone down overnight and the bottom of the short run was the top of a now shallow riffle, almost everybody got a chance to get stuck at least once. Some of us twice. The good news was it wrapped my ride plate up around the pump a little and the result was less hop and the boat felt lighter on it's feet. The bad news was I had to pick rocks out of the grate and I am sure I have several dings in the leading edges of the impeller. Also, it's embarassing to float back through a riffle to get to deep water with the motor off and the boat going thud every twenty feet or so on the bottom of the river. Very embarassing.
The second down run, the long one, to Robertson Bridge was eventful.
In A-class, Barry and Charlie Pelkey were out, their motor went on a break and never came back. Paul Bagshaw and Rob Soule were out, the boat being too badly bent to continue. Bob White and Richard Clark- just ripping. STILL ripping even though they had fastest time every leg except one and were ahead of #277 and #216. And even with the other two boats in their class retired, they still continued to tear off fast runs. I think, maybe, that these guys just simply like to drive the boat just as fast as it will go.
B-class: Scott Adams was making all good runs, Steve Hanlin was also making all good runs and Dave Provost was making a series of sparkling runs. Dwain Longfellow was also doing some sparkling runs, but not enough to gain back enough time get on the podium. B-class was very, very close.
Then, Duane and Gary Labrum #263 Pac-o-fier found the rock just above Finley Bend. They departed normal flight and began a botanical field trip off into the bushes. Duane, the quiet driver, took credit for it- he said "I looked over at the gauges, for some reason, I don't know why I had to look at those damn gauges, it ain't my job! Ka-wham, we hit the rock and it was all over." Gary Labrum told about flying into the brush, the boat riding up on Duane's side, Gary's side down, held up by the little trees and brush they were running over, seeing a big tree coming but the boat turned away from it. Went a little further then plopped back down. They could hear people outside the brush pile yelling "Are you OK?" The Labrum's yelled back "Yes, we are fine" Then heard they heard people yelling "Where in hell are you anyway?"
Gary said a PR/Diver came running towards them down the door sized hole they had made in the bushes wearing his flippers and wetsuit. Gary said we were on dryland and ok, we don't need a diver. The rescue man laughed, looked down and said, "Geez, I guess I wore the wrong shoes today!"
The sweep boat operator, Steve Soderberg, said that you could barely tell where they had gone into the bushes. He said if you got your head down and looked up the tunnel you could just barely see some color at the end.
On OUR down run, we came around the right hander above Brushy Chutes and a flag boat was waving the yellow flag. Got way off it and starting looking everywhere for helmets, heads or lifejackets in case someone was floating down the river. Downriver about 100 yards from the rock point on the left and in the middle of the approach to Brushy Chutes was #13, Yellowhammer, sideways. Horse was over the side on his side and Merv over the side on the other in about knee deep water holding the boat. Two solid roosters of water were coming out of the bilge overboards. We slowed some more and took them down our left, but gave them lots of room. The front of the boat looked funny. That's about all I could tell, trying to pay attention to were I was, check them out and make sure I didn't go too slow through a gravel pile or something. I stopped looking after they waved they were ok, and when I got down past them, got back on it and started trying figured out were I was going down through Brushy Chutes. Lynn kept looking back just in case.
On the run back up, they were over beached on the north side of the river, helmets off, and Merv was on the phone. Bum-mer.
I ran through a set of the sprint boat double buoys at the finish line, had to slide way left to catch them.
Well that was Grants Pass this year. I was thinking doing just the short run would be boring and would suck, but guess what, you can't ever take any stretch of any river for granted. There is still plenty to make you pay attention even on this abbreviated section of the ultimate technical whitewater race, Grants Pass. The long run to Alameda is a true adrenalin pump, it's one of the best and I always look forward to the challenge of it, but the short run will more than do, at least for this year!
One last comment: River Wild Boats (Wing Boats) won every class except BBFX. All four River Wild starters finished and placed in the top three. Dave, Bob and Rich deserve recognition for the thought, hard work and just plain old persevearance they put into making this design work. No, don't take it wrong now, I ain't knocking Eagles! I just appreciate the determination.
Following are a photo of the times.