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These super modifieds are supposed to be the some of the slower boats.
And sprint boat drivers who are barely old enough to vote are not supposed to win national championships.
Dillon Brown doesn't subscribe to those rules. The Sequim 18-year-old, along with copilot Teri Cummings (his stepmother), raced to a sprint boat national title in the super modifieds class in Albany, Ore., this September, racing just ahead of his dad Tim Cummings.
"This is one smooth driver," says Teri, who sits next to Dillon and helps the young racer navigate racecourses with up to 39 turns in less than a minute.
"He can recover (quickly); his skills are becoming amazing."
And while his meteoric rise in the sport may seem implausible, it all makes sense to Dillon and Teri, considering his grooming.
A racing prodigy
Dillon was hooked on racing at an early age. A jet skier by age 10, Dillon cultivated that racing passion on trips to Pothole Reservoir near Moses Lake, where he and his family would see trailers stacked with speed machines.
"I'd just be dreaming the whole way there and back," Dillon recalls.
Dan Morrison, a Port Angeles resident and family friend, got hooked on the idea of buying and racing sprint boats, and soon had Dillon's dad hooked, too.
"I saw the look in my husband's eyes," Teri says, grinning. "Dillon didn't stand a chance."
Dillon got his first ride in a powerboat at age 15. The next time he was in one, he was driving.
"I didn't even get in with him," Teri says. "I was ready to throw up."
"That's how I felt," Dillon says. "I couldn't even see (the navigator). The more time I spent in the boat, things started to slow down.
Says Teri, "You don't have time to be scared."
Sprint boats are generally divided into three classes: super modifieds, A-400s and super boats.
And while the super modifieds are supposed to be one of the slower classes, Dillon is making his ride, the Jeepers Creepers, challenge that theory. At the national championship in September, he placed just behind a super boat for fastest time.
No relaxing on race day
With tracks spread out sparsely across the Northwest, sprint boat drivers generally have eight to 10 races per season. In 2010, however, track closures reduced the season to just six races.
Even with just six races this seaosn, Dillon and company have significant costs to maintain the boat. That's why the Sequim racer says he's appreciative of his key sponsors: Dog House Powder Coating; Ed’s Automotive & Machine; Randy Alderson from Anderson’s Auto Body; and Dillon’s grandmother, Jane Cummings.
Dillon's favorite track to race is Albany, Ore., where he and Teri made their championship run. But his favorite place to race for fan support is St. John's where crowds have swelled to 6,500 for a weekend.
The night before a competition, each racer and navigator gets a copy of the track. Both memorize the course so that there's little time lost in figuring out which way to turn in the canals holding three-foot deep channels of water.
Racers get four laps to qualify, then classes are trimmed to the top eight races, then four, then finally two following one-lap tries.
Turns require split-second decisions, risking hitting bits of "islands" or the outer edge of the course.
"You have to go full-bore," Teri says. "That's why there are so many wrecks."
At age 16, Dillon was the youngest racer in the country. This year, just his third full season, he racked up enough points to have a chance at the national title heading into the finals in Albany.
He avoided a mechanical problem early and a racing slip later on to post the fastest time, followed closely behind by his father Tim Cummings and navigator Mike Fuller, racing in the same boat.
For the first time in U.S. Sprint Boat Association history, a father-son combo - make that, son-father combo - took home first and second places at national finals.
The points gave Dillon the overall championship as well.
Sequim speedboat racer Paul Gahr fared well at nationals, too, placing sixth in his races there and second overall in points standings in the A-400 classification.
A repeat champ?
Dillon intends to repeat as national champion in the super modifieds class in 2011. He's hoping to add a bigger engine to Jeepers Creepers, too, if the sponsorship money is there.
But he's also hoping he won't have far to go for these races. Morrison, now a veteran of sprint boat racing, finalized plans this fall to build a sprint boat course just west of Port Angeles.
"With my work schedule and the weather (permitting), I will try to finish it this year," Morrison says, noting that he still needs - and is close to securing - a permit to host a racing event.
The idea of a course close to home has the Sequim speed demon dreaming again.
"Words can't describe," Dillon says. "For it to be 40 minutes away rather than six-and-a-half hours... "
Says Teri, "It's going to be the best track around. Then people can see what we can actually do. You can explain (sprint boat racing) but it's not like actually seeing it."
Teri extols the entertainment value of sprint boat racing.
"There's no downtime and plenty of wrecks," she says.