Hydroplane tradition sees old, new racers on water

From shore, veteran racer Roger Stanley watched the annual Fourth of July hydro run around Vashon.

  • Wednesday, July 17, 2019 12:03pm
  • Sports

Sixty years after his original early morning hydroplane run, Roger Stanley was on-hand for this year’s traditional Fourth of July hydro run around Vashon.

Before the race, veteran racer and past winner Evan Mattingley, who was not racing this year but was expecting the birth of twins any moment, summed up his thoughts about the event.

“This is perfect water — the record is going to be broken today,” he said.

Indeed, Stanley, now retired from racing, saw his record time 35:15 defeated as first-time racer Tony Bianchi made the trip around the island in 33:25. Four hydros started the marathon race — veterans Karl Olsen and Mitch VanBuskirk, along with newcomers Evan Hills and Tony Bianchi. VanBuskirk hit the start line first at 5:25 a.m. and minutes later the crowd of around two hundred could hear the hydros pass Portage on their way to the north end. At about 32 minutes, the hydros could be heard entering Quartermaster Harbor.

As they came around the point, Hills was in hot pursuit of Bianchi, who crossed the finish line a mere boat length ahead of Hills, followed by Olsen and then VanBuskirk a few minutes later. All of the racers beat Stanley’s old record.

A tradition of sharing and swapping parts for the mostly antique engines continued this year as VanBuskirk congratulated Bianchi.

“You won because of my prop,” he said. Bianchi was using a special racing prop borrowed from VanBuskirk. Second-generation racer Evan Hills, who first raced last year in a borrowed hydro, ran his own this year with a modern outboard racing engine and nearly won, leading someone to comment, “lose a few pounds and you’ll beat him next time.”

Hills ran with a special memorial on his hydro to Justin Hagerty, a close friend of many of the racers, who died in a boating accident this year.

While the tradition is “annoying and a nuisance” to some, the hydros require calm water to run. Those conditions are more common in early morning hours. The event has endured for nearly 60 years and has become a Vashon tradition, as one generation gets too old to kneel down in a tiny boat for nearly an hour, hydros and equipment are passed from one generation to another, and the tradition continues.

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