Different perspectives, same goal for local hydroplane drivers

Jeff Bernard will be happy to take any spot in the finals – as long as it’s not fifth place.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Friday, August 1, 2008 2:35pm
  • Sports

Jeff Bernard will be happy to take any spot in the finals – as long as it’s not fifth place.

Brian Perkins will be happy to take any spot in the finals – as long as his boat is running.

Different perspectives, but the same goal for the two local drivers who gradually are making more waves on the unlimited hydroplane circuit.

Bernard, Perkins, their aquatic aircraft and their roostertail-raising counterparts are in the area for this weekend’s Chevrolet Cup at Seafair regatta on Lake Washington. And while neither will be favored to take the trophy on Sunday afternoon, both have earned the right to be reckoned with based on their performances so far.

The 23-year-old Bernard, a Michigan native who has been in Washington for nine years and moved to Kent three years ago, already has one victory this season, pulling off the feat in his U-5 FormulaBoats.com on July 6 at the Governor’s Cup in Madison, Ind.

Perkins, also 23, is a perfect 3 for 3 in making finals this season, capped by a second-place finish in last weekend’s Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities in the U-50 Spirit of the Navy, which, at the age of 12, is the oldest boat in the pits.

And if their names aren’t mentioned in the same breath as, say, Auburn’s Dave Villwock, who has 55 victories in the books, perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

“Our goal is to make it into every final and finish in the top three in every final,” said Bernard, who settled for third in the Tri-Cities on a weekend when his boat threw a propeller during testing on Saturday, then had its rear wing come apart during Sunday’s final. “And I’d like to continue clicking off some heat wins. Last year, we won two heats in Seattle. We’d like to get at least one heat win there.”

Given his druthers, Bernard – whose first race was the 2005 Seafair event — would make that the final heat after a string of three consecutive fifth-place finishes on Lake Washington.

“Anything better than fifth is awesome,” Bernard said. “Anything except that No. 5 number.”

A full-season ride

“That No. 5 number” has a familiar ring to Perkins, as well. Naturally, he was delighted to take No. 2 in the Tri-Cities last Sunday, moving up a few notches after three drivers ahead of him were hit with penalty laps for various infractions.

But in the two Indiana regattas – Thunder on the Ohio in Evansville on June 29, and the Governor’s Cup in Madison a week later – fifth place was plenty satisfying. Making the finals was satisfying.

For that matter, just being there was satisfying.

“The boat was only supposed to run Tri-Cities and Seattle,” said Perkins, whose home is snuggled between Kent and Black Diamond, and whose U-50 team is based in Maple Valley. “The Navy (which is sponsoring the Blue Angel-motif boat) came back and said, ‘We don’t want to do anything unless you run the full circuit.’ So that in itself was really cool.”

Just like that, Perkins, who has been driving unlimiteds for just two years, went from not having a ride after the U-21 Freedom Racing Team shut down to having one for the entire six-race season.

The only catch was the 12-year-old hull, which started its life as the Pico American Dream.

“We started off the year with just hopes of running and finishing every heat,” Perkins said. “We didn’t expect to make final heats, didn’t expect to win heats – not anything like that. We just wanted to go out and do the best with what we had.”

That simple strategy is working so far. The Navy boat has competed in 16 heats, finished all 16, and made it to finals in Evansville, Madison and Kennewick (The Gold Cup in Detroit never got that far, as racing was called off after two rounds of heats because of windy conditions.)

“We haven’t made any mistakes,” Perkins said. “We’ve finished every heat, something some of the other guys with better boats haven’t been doing.”

As they approach their mid 20s, Bernard, a fourth-generation hydro racer (his family tree includes former drivers Mark and Mike Weber, and Terry Troxel) and Perkins are part of the future of hydroplanes.

Villwock, the sport’s leading driver who still has a legitimate shot of catching the late, legendary Bill Muncey (62 wins) or the now-retired Chip Hanauer (61), likes what he sees.

“A lot of times in this sport, we focus on the start and forget about the rest,” Villwock said. “As you grow, you learn when to go and when not to go, and you learn ‘Where can I put my boat to get the best finish?’

Ultimately, that means putting the boat into the finals. And whether it’s this weekend at Seafair or at any other stop on the circuit, Jeff Bernard and Brian Perkins are happy to take any spot in the finals.

As long as they get there.


• WHAT: The 58th annual Lake Washington stop on the unlimited hydroplane circuit.

• WHEN: Today and Sunday, Some racing is scheduled for today, with the bulk of it on Sunday. In addition to the unlimiteds, the regatta also will feature the unlimited ‘lights.’

• WHERE: Stan Sayres Pits, on the south end of Lake Washington.

• SCHEDULE: Today — Unlimited hydros qualifying, 11:15 a.m.; Unlimited lights heats 1A and 1B, 12:10 p.m. and 12:25 p.m. Unlimited hydros heats 1A, 1B and 1C, 2:45 p.m., 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Unlimited lights heats 2A and 2B, 5:35 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. Sunday — Opening ceremonies, 9:50 a.m. Unlimited hydros heats 2A, 2B and 2C, 10:40 a.m., 10:55 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. Unlimited hydros heats 3A and 3B, 12:15 p.m. and 12:35 p.m. Unlimited hydros provisional heat, 2:30 p.m. Unlimited lights B-main, 2:45 p.m. Unlimited lights final, 4:25 p.m. Unlimited hydros Chevrolet Cup final, 4:45 p.m. Awards, 5:15 p.m.

• DEFENDING CHAMPION: Oh Boy! Oberto, driver Steve David.

• TICKETS: Today and Sunday, $25 in advance, $30 on site. Seniors 65 and older are $5 each day in advance or on site. Active military with ID and children under 12 with a paid adult are free. Two-day tickets, good for today and Sunday, are available at Union 76 stations for $25. Pit passes are an ADDITIONAL $10; pit tours are an ADDITIONAL $5.

• ON THE AIR: Full-day coverage on Sunday on KIRO Channel 7 and on KPTK 1090 AM.

• More information: (206) 728-0123, or online at www.seafair.com or www.abrahydroplanes.com.

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