Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The 2008 Gold Cup

The 100th Running

In 2008 the U37 team pulled out some miracles it seemed. They had a very strong season despite only getting to keep 1 of their first place finishes (I promised no bashing so I’ll leave the ABRA alone). When this team started the season they believed they had the boat to beat. By September it seemed they backed it up. In Tri Cities they dominated and only an equipment failure took them out. In Seattle they dominated but a controversial call took them out. In San Diego they had a very strong weekend and had the U5 been called for the multiple lane change violations in the mill (That is simply an opinion based on every camera angle I’ve ever seen), the U37 would have been able to keep their Bayfair trophy. Instead they ended the season with a second place finish at Bayfair and third in national points, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of pics of the actual work being done in Detroit because everyone that could have taken pics was pulled in to work on the boat and the few shots that were taken of the hardware being rebuilt, can not be shared. But Todd Tamayao and Linn Hawley from the U37 team set me up with some pics that should help tell the story.

There was a Gold Cup rookie or two in the crowd but for the most part, this team had been there before and they knew what it was going to take to be the team to win the 100th Gold Cup. The Oh Boy! Oberto team out of Madison had an extremely strong boat and a very good driver who has been wanting to hoist that trophy for many years. J. Michael Kelly and David Bryant were driving the sponsons off of their boats and Jimmy King is ALWAYS tough on his own turf, the Detroit River. And don’t forget those Formula guys or the U50 team. The beauty of Detroit is that it’s not necessarily the best boat that wins. You truly have to earn it. The team that wins this trophy is the team that can rise up and put a solid boat on the water every heat. Your boat is going to take and absolute beating at the Gold Cup simply because of the nature of the Roostertail Turn. So there’s one thing you must keep in mind in Detroit…Get points. Plain and simple.

In the test session Jean Theoret was launching out of the Roostertail Turn. The boat was running very well. However, this team had a few things in the back of their minds. You see in Evansville they won the Thunder on the Ohio but it was at the cost of a gearbox. Madison isn’t the cleanest water to race in and they lost a gearbox there as well. So they were now in Detroit with parts on the way, but only 1 working gear box until those parts arrived. Hopefully they don’t break anything before the parts arrive.

On the last lap of testing things were not sounding right and Theoret was forced to shut her down and tow her in. The worst thing that could happen, happened. The crew has 2 HOURS until heat 1A and no gear box. And no chance of putting one together. In fact the parts were not scheduled to arrive until 1 hour before the heat was to start. It looks like a Gold Cup is not possible for the U37 team unless they can somehow pull out a miracle. The thing is, you can’t really tell this team something isn’t possible. This crew was formed with a purpose and they have some absolute experts in all aspects of the boat whether it’s hull, gears, engines or drive train. Together they somehow believe that they can still figure out a way to win the Gold Cup. Even though literally, mathematically and any other way you can look at the situation, a Gold Cup is impossible for this team. They truly understand the phrase “it is what it is” and when the only option is to rebuild it and hope for the best, that’s exactly what they do.

If you look close at Jean Theoret’s feet you can see the burned up gearbox. As the crew began to tear down the boat and prepare the gear box to be rebuilt, Mother Nature stepped in to help out. The crew needed some HEAVY rain and wind to cause a delay. Well, be careful what you wish for, that’s all I can say. Mother Nature unleashed a fury of wind, rain, thunder, lightning and anything else she could pull together to punish this crew with. She did the favor but they paid the price. What you don’t see in this blog are the guys standing on the deck of the boat with umbrellas IN A LIGHTNIING STORM so that teammates could clean out the bilge and get it ready for the new motor and gear box. When I say a lightning storm I mean that we were almost hearing the thunder as we saw the flash of the lightning. The guys in the back of the truck were tearing down the gear box and getting it to a point where the parts just needed to be slammed back in. 1 owner went to the hotel to wait for parts. Another went somewhere else to get parts. Plus other parts were being delivered to a 3rd location. Luckily they had a sponsor in town that was able to help them out with parts as well.

The Detroit crowd really got behind this crew and by the time the rain stopped they gathered to see if this crew could finish what they had started. The parts had actually arrived on time if not a little early. People were driving from different directions, through Detroit to get parts to this crew and they all got it done. The crew was ready and immediately started to put the boat back together. They had now been working for over 2 hours in an absolute downpour and under the absolute worse conditions possible at the time. But to these guys the rain was a blessing and being from Seattle they were used to working in the rain. The problem was that the weather was improving fast but the boat wasn’t done. They needed a little more time. And somehow, they got it. Once the first heat was rescheduled another delay came down and if I remember correctly it was to wait out some other weather on its way.To watch them work was impressive. They had a team of guys on the boat removing the engine and cleaning out the bilge. In the back of the truck 4 or 5 people rebuilt the gear box. 2 or 3 others were fetching tools and as you watched this group you couldn’t help but wonder how these 4 or 5 people at the truck standing shoulder to shoulder are able to work like this. The amazing thing was that they were never running in to each other. They always knew what was going on around them and they could anticipate when someone needed more room. You can’t plan or coordinate that. Each one knows their roll and each one knows that the other is going to do their job. This crew lives by the phrase “failure is not an option”. If they didn’t make it on to the water for heat 1A, every one of them would have felt like they didn’t do their job knowing full well that it was near impossible to do what they had to do.

When it was all said and done it was about a 3 hour delay in the racing action. They were literally screwing down deck hatches as the boat was strapped to the crane. This after a 5 min delay right before the 5 min gun. So this team used literally every second of time they had to work with. And as soon as that crane operator lifted that boat and started to swing it to the water, the entire Detroit crowd got on their feet to acknowledge this crew and wish them good luck in this first heat. In the photo you’ll see Pierre Theoret (left) strapping in his dad and Ryan Mallow (right) who is a big part of this crew, sending Jean off to heat 1A.

And with that the U37 not only got on to the course, Theoret got her in to lane 1 and at the last Roostertail turn before the start, everyone was lined up ready to go. I don’t know if I can do this part of the story justice but the fans are really in to this team. So much so that on Sunday morning a fan presented the entire team with a photo (almost exact to this one) which they took and over night had it blown up and framed. You see this fan was so moved by the effort that this team put out that to show his appreciation as a fan, of what he witnessed, he presented the team with a token of their work. You see, he wanted to capture this moment in time so that these guys could look back on it and really appreciate what they got done. That’s partly how cool these guys are but it’s also how cool the fans in this sport are. I’ve watched every sport available to us in the United States and hydroplane racing is definitely a quirky sport of its own but what an incredible experience it is to watch a race and observe the crews and the fans. By the way, the crew has the framed photo in the engine room at their Seattle shop. I saw it the morning it was presented and I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen it hanging on the wall in the shop.

When it was all over and the roostertails settled, Theoret got back to the dock and I think they heard him at the yacht club when he got out of his cockpit and exclaimed “YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!!!” What an incredible moment it was after watching this crew for 3 hours battle every form of weather, besides snow, that Mother Nature could dish out, to some degree risk their lives working on this boat in a lightning storm and then to see Jean win that race and put the exclamation point on this team’s effort. Win or lose, these guys know how to be a champion. Now keep this in mind. This in only the first heat of racing on Saturday morning. There was still a full weekend of racing to do after this one heat. But, it earned them the ever important 400 points needed to work toward the final.

On Sunday it was a day long wait for the winds to die down. They never did and the race was canceled. Too bad too because there were a few boats that could have taken the trophy home. During the break on Sunday the U37 crew felt bad for the fans for having to sit through the crappy weather and not know if there was going to be racing or not. So the crew grabbed up all of their autograph cards and headed to the bleachers to mingle with the crowd. And when I say the crew I mean Jean Theoret, Billy and Jane Schumacher, Scott Raney, the ENTIRE crew. It seemed like a pretty cool gesture. I don’t understand how sponsors are so quick to hop on board with the criminals and idiots in traditional pro sports today and then a sport like this with incredible sportsmanship and a group of people always willing to spend time with the fans struggles to find sponsorship. If you’re reading this and you have the power to spend advertising dollars at your company, I highly recommend you look in to this sport. I’m willing to bet that it’s very affordable advertising and knowing how loyal these fans are to this sport (me being one of them), I know that the ROI will be achieved. Plus, in 2009 they’re going international with an maiden voyage in Doha Qatar for the first ever Oryx Cup. Get on the phone and get a hold of one of these teams or the ABRA and get in now. As this sport re-grows you’ll have got in on the ground level and be able to build your sponsorship in to something to last for years to come.It would be a shame to break this team up but 2009 looks to be headed in that direction. Due to the economy they lost their sponsorship and it sounds like the equipment will be sold. What that means for this crew I do not know but as a fan of this sport, for the sake of this sport, I hope they find a way to keep these guys together.Thanks to Todd Tamayao, U37 Photographer, and Linn Hawley for the photos used in this blog.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fixing Tri Cities

Well, to tell you about what it took to fix Tri Cities I need to first tell you a little bit about Tri Cities. The U37 crew was having a great weekend. You could call it “routine”. The boat set up was good and it was pretty much just a matter of heat strategy. What was it they wanted to go for? Total domination or getting in the final? Well, despite the rest of the field qualifying faster the Miss Beacon Plumbing chose to get in to the final and dominated along the way. In this heat Villwock led for about ¾ of a lap and from there it was all over.

In the final Theoret led for 3 ¾ of the race when all hell broke loose, literally. The boat “threw a prop” and with that the crew had exactly 5 days to the minute, to be on the water in Seattle. Except they first had to fix this; torn up transom, destroyed shoe and a prop in pieces. It was at this very moment that the U37 crew started a task list in their heads knowing that first this boat had to get back to Seattle. So that’s exactly what they did. They packed her up and 8 hours later they were back at the shop in Seattle laying out supplies for the rebuild that was going to start in just a few hours. This boat will be on the water at Seafair.

Before you fix it, you must first make it worse. Here the crew is taking the damaged material off of the boat to prepare surfaces that a new non trip can be connected to. In the timeline this is late morning on Monday, approximately 18-20 hours after the Tri Cities final.

To do this work it actually took 2 crews working 20 hour days. 1 crew would work to shore up the rear transom and 1 crew would work to rebuild the non trip. In this photo we’re in the early afternoon hours of Monday. The first day was probably the longest day with the crew putting in 21 hours. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 men on the crew, friends of the crew and neighbors who heard the bad news. The response to this situation was unbelievable. One story I can tell you is about a guy we’ll call “Bob” and you’ll understand as you read the story. Bob was a neighbor of the shop. Bob came by to see if there was absolutely anything he could do to help the crew. So he could see that the floor was getting to be a mess and if it were clean, it would be more safe. So Bob grabbed a broom and proudly swept the floors to make better work spaces for the crew. Wed night at midnight Bob came by the shop. You see, Bob couldn’t sleep knowing the crew was in the shop THRASHING to get their boat in the water in 42 hours. So Bob threw on some sweats hit an all night coffee stand (thank GOD the shop is in Seattle) and brought the crew some very large cups of coffee and some very large pastries. Bob explained “my wife doesn’t even know I’m here. I couldn’t sleep and I figured you guys could use some coffee so I had to go get some and bring it down.” Of that entire week, I think the crew would agree that Bob was the MVP.

Jeff and Chris iron out an issue with connecting up the transom and the bottom of the boat. It wasn’t just rebuilding the boat it was a massive series of issues that you had to troubleshoot in order to carry out the plan of rebuilding the boat. I think that’s what made it so draining on the crew. It was definitely physical all week but it was very mental throughout the process as well.

If you had not seen the boat back on the water over the Seafair weekend you probably would not believe me when I tell you that this picture was taken Wed morning. Less than 72 hours after the accident and the boat is making an incredible comeback.

And with that it looks like maybe this boat will be qualifying Saturday morning. It’s definitely going to race in the Chevy Cup and it’s going to be the boat to beat. It’s just got a long way to go until it’s finished and with today being Wednesday, they’ve got a little more than 48 hours until this boat needs to be qualifying for Seafair. So if they extend that 24 hours then everything will be just fine.

Looks like Dave is working hard. Nah. Building stuff is what Dave does so despite complete exhaustion, he’s livin’ the dream “doing what he does”. And honest to God if you were standing there taking this photo and you asked Dave “when will this boat be on the water?” Dave would answer “Before the course closes on Friday evening” having no idea for sure what time that is. And he doesn’t tell you that with playful optimism. He’s as serious as a heart attack.

It’s now very early in the morning on Thursday. That’s right THURSDAY. The heart of this crew is like no other. This boat is almost back together. A couple more hours of laying glass and they’ll be ready to pack up the truck to head to the pits. Think about this. How many reality shows have you watched where a group of people can’t work together for 24 hours to achieve a common goal. This group of men never stopped. They never complained and they never one time, bickered at each other. No man was above any job. If someone was asked to sweep a floor, they proudly swept the floor knowing it was helping someone else on the team. If someone had to be taken off of their job and do a parts run in the middle of rush hour, they did it happily. I refer to them as a crew which they are, but more importantly they are a team in the true sense of the word. Even Scott the crew chief would have to be reminded that he’s got guys to do the job he can put down the sander and oversee the operations for a while.

As they leave to go catch a nap while the epoxy “goes off” the boat is really looking good. Hopefully these fixes will hold together. There is simply no time to paint it right, so there will be some patch work done to the paint job on Friday. The sun is about to come up on Thursday morning so this crew will have about 36 hours once they get back. Can they do it? They have absolutely no doubt that they will do it.

From the front it looks like this boat is ready to battle. But racing in Seattle is like racing in a soup bowl. To some degree these guys are crossing their fingers and hoping these fixes will hold together as this boat is punished at Seafair. When the crew comes back in a few hours on Thursday morning they’ll need to get the engine, gearbox, skid fin, rudder, prop and systems back in order. Oh yeah, they also have to clean the shop and pack it back in to the truck. As they leave on Thursday night they know that all they need to do is patch up the paint and load her on to the trailer.

Remember Dave? The one that I told you would lead you to believe this boat would qualify on Friday? Dave is a general contractor and when he gives you a completion date, you can bet that the job is not only going to be done, it’s going to be done to an exceptional level. The crew pulled in to the Stan Sayre’s pits at about 5pm on Friday. Before the course closed at 6pm, Jean Theoret validated the 1500+ hours spent rebuilding this boat by qualifying at 142mph right off the trailer. The Miss Beacon Plumbing had officially welcomed her guests to the 2008 Chevy Cup at Seafair.

As hard as Dave Villwock and the U16 crew tried to spoil the U37 crew’s weekend, Jean Theoret would not have it. The U16 would spend the weekend in Theoret’s roostertail for a 3rd consecutive year.

And when it was all over, no one came close to beating this boat. Despite the call that Theoret was off plane prior to the race he dominated the weekend. Think about it. If he came off plane, which he didn’t, then he came from off plane at the beginning of the race to dominate 5 laps of racing. Dave Villwock can tell you all day that he let up but if you watched that race you know he brought everything he had and it wasn’t nearly enough. The cherry on top for this team should be that they also accomplished the fastest competition lap over the Seafair weekend. Hats off to the U37 crew for the amazing job that they did to get this boat from the final in Tri Cities to the checkered flag in Seattle. I’ve named a few of them in this story but every one of them had a very important roll in this entire process and it would not have been successful if every one of them didn’t do the job that they did that week. I’d also like to mention that this crew of men had a crew of women behind them and whether it was being patient while their men didn’t come home for 5 days, arranged food to be delivered or picked up, reminded guys to take a 5 minute break, or whether they were at the shop on Thursday at midnight sewing sponsor patches on to uniforms they had as much heart as the crew fixing this boat. THIS is hydroplane racing folks. And it’s stuff like this that happens week in and week out to every team on the beach. They are all great at what they do and they all have heart. While this blog spotlights arguably one of the greatest hydroplane crews ever, the U37 crew, everyone in the pit would give this effort to get their boat on the water for the next race.
One thing that I didn't point out. Not all of the crew lives in Seattle and all of these guys use their vacation time from their real jobs, to go racing during the summer. One crew member had to be at home in Portland during this thrashing. To make it up to his teammates (even though he didn't need to) he called a local restaurant and had an incredible dinner sent over for the crew.
And the thing that makes these men and women amazing is that they don’t collect a pay check. Very few of them are on the race team payroll. The rest of them are there because they love to go racing and more importantly, they love to go hydroplane racing. All of the photographs in this story were shot and provided by Todd Tamayao, photographer of the U37 Racing Team.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

U37 Fan Blog

Welcome to the new U37 Fan Site Blog. This blog is still under construction but soon you'll see stories and photos of the U37 Racing Team doing what it takes to win races.