Problematic hydroplane records world-record time at Black Lake Regatta

For much of the week, owner Scott Pierce and his team were left scrambling. Borrow a part here, replace another there. All of it last minute.

The lone success for all their hard work was beginning to look like the boat’s shiny new paint job.

“The paint didn’t even dry until around 11 Thursday night,” Pierce said. “We’ve had a lot of issues. I don’t think anyone thought this would happen today. This is a total surprise.”

All the problems melted away once the hydroplane was in the water.

Pierce’s GP-55, driven by Jamie Nelson, set a world record in the first heat of the Grand Prix West division at the 41st Annual Lucky Eagle Black Lake Regatta on Sunday.

The average lap time over the 1.25-mile course was 116.84 miles per hour, beating the mark of 116.129 mph set in 2010 by Shockwave Racing’s GP-17, which is owned by Olympia’s Rick Bridgeman.

“We were using our backup engine, the smaller engine. Plus, this was the first time the kid (Nelson) had ever sat in the boat, and we had nothing but problems heading into today,” said Pierce, who drove Miss Budweiser to victory in the 1991 Seafair Cup en route to a national title that season. “Yesterday, we had problems with spark plugs and the ignition. We just couldn’t get anything going.”

To resolve the mechanical issues, Pierce’s craft was pierced together almost like Frankenstein’s monster.

“We borrowed the heads and block from (Grand Prix West president) Larry Linn and got a brand-new spark box from Bob Schellhase,” Pierce said. “Without them, we’re not racing today.”

Once the heat started, Nelson quickly stole the inside lane and gradually built a lead before stopping the clock in a world-record time.

“We had a lot of struggles with this boat, but apparently the team fixed them,” Nelson said. “The start is such a key part of the race. You can either win or lose the race because of it. I was fortunate today to have it pay off, but it has gone the other way plenty of times.”

Shockwave Racing’s GP-17, driven by Dustin Echols, finished second in the heat.

“We all have regular jobs, and for the last 21/2 months, we’ve put 12 to 14 hours a day into this boat, seven days a week,” Pierce said. “It’s very exciting to see it all come together and pay off for us.”

The Schellhase-owned GP-12 captured the second heat with an average lap time of 114.2 mph. Shockwave Racing once again got up for second, while Pierce’s boat finished third.

The pair of runner-up performances helped Shockwave Racing capture the overall title for the two-day event, the first on the Grand Prix West seasonal schedule.

Last season, Shockwave Racing was second in the final points standings (1,300 points) to Jerry Hopp’s GP-15 (1,760).

According to Black Lake Regatta race director Jerry Dugan, the event has seen a steady annual attendance increase since the Grand Prix West was added to the event in 2010.

“Our attendance has increased 3 to 8 percent every year over the last five years,” Dugan said. “The Grand Prix is a big reason for that. It’s the big draw. People come running when they fire the boats up. They put on a great show. It’s a very competitive division. The owners spend anywhere from $190,000 to $300,000 on these boats, and it shows.”

Up next on the Grand Prix West circuit will be the 49th annual Columbia Cup from July 25-27 in Kennewick.

The only stop the Grand Prix West does not make on the National American Power Boat Association Western Division schedule is Seattle’s Seafair, something that could change in the near future.

“The door has been opened up a little bit. We’re starting to have conversations (with Seafair officials),” Pierce said. “Hopefully, we are a part of it in 2015.”