of property. But I wasn’t too happy. I ran into Bob Gilliam testing the Atlas for Bob Fendler one day and asked him how to get to drive a hydro. He said you had to start on a crew. So, I asked if I could do that. He said, “OK.” I started going out to his place weekends working on the U-21, which was under construction. When he decided to race the boat, his crew took it over. They were a tightly knit group, so I was never involved. I just worked on his boat.
Jimmy Shane and HomeStreet reclaim the national title.
[Top] Grand Prix action with the Detroit skyline in the background.
[Above] Andrew Tate (left) driving the Pennzoil H-300 to victory in
Hydro 350 competition. On the inside of him is Donny Allen.
Pete LaRock’s first unlimited was a boat that was built in 1957 and would race during its first four seasons as the Breathless II (Hull #5722). During its first year under LaRock’s ownership in 1973, it was the U-11 Shakey’s Special and Tom Martin was its driver. The hull has been rebuilt and currently appears at unlimited events as the U-80 Blue Chip, a name that it carried in 1963 and ‘64.
by Roger Schaaf
Photos by Robert F. Peters
The 2019 Detroit Hydrofest was a huge success. Congratulations to Mark Weber and
the awesome volunteers for a great race weekend. Thank you to all of the teams who raced and provided a great show. Last but not least, thank you to the Dynamic Duo, Ayler and
Luce. You guys Rochon … or was that Rock On!
The weather was nearly perfect, upper 70s, and winds off of Lake St. Clair kept the Detroit River relatively flat. The wind at times was a bit
strong, but not enough to keep the boats on the trailers.
The crowd was fantastic. Personally, I didn’t think that many people would attend. Thankful that I was wrong. Great job Detroit for showing your support.
The H1 Unlimiteds were absent this year so it was up to the HRL Grand Prix, Hydro 350s, and Jersey Speed Skiffs to showcase their stuff.
They did not disappoint. Noise, close racing, and non-stop action filled both days of racing.
Familiar H1 names were on hand to help put on the show. Names such as Bert Henderson,
Andrew Tate, Jimmy King, Scott Liddycoat, Jeff Bernard, and Tom Thompson raced in the Grand Prix class. I sure hope that I didn’t miss
UNJ: Take us back. How’d you get started in unlimited racing? It is commonly thought you were on Bob Gilliam’s crew.
LaRock: Well, that’s a misnomer, so I’ll clear that up. I was born and raised in an apartment complex across the street from Jett’s Marina in south-end Seattle where all the boats came to test every year. I watched the Hawaii Ka’i and the Thriftway all winter long because my best friend’s father owned the place. So, I lived at the boatyard and was thoroughly indoctrinated from the first grade on. My father wanted me to be a musician, and I always wanted to race boats. After college, the Army, and ski bumming for a couple of years, I returned to Seattle and was a pretty good carpenter, had a Jaguar, a truck. Three pieces
Many colorful characters have been involved with unlimited hydroplane racing during the past 115 years, and among them was Peter Alan LaRock. Billed as the youngest owner in unlimited racing when he bought his first boat at the age of 26 in the early 1970s, LaRock may have been best described by a Seattle newspaper reporter who wrote
an article about him titled “Hydro Dreamer.”
He developed his passion for boat racing while growing up in South Seattle not far from a marina where many of the unlimited teams tested. While scraping by, making a living as a carpenter and even living for a time in a dog kennel, he nevertheless managed to buy an old hydroplane from Bob Gilliam and went racing in 1973. Two years later, with the death of Jim Clapp who had developed the first turbine-powered hydroplane, the U-95, LaRock convinced Clapp’s widow, Pamela, that he was worthy of becoming the boat’s new owner.
He removed the turbine engine and replaced it with an Allison, later re-powered it with a Rolls Merlin, and would drive it himself in 1977 as it carried the name U-96 KYYX. When Jerry Bangs was killed during the Seattle race that season, LaRock decided he had enough of racing and sold the boat, but while visiting with friends in the pits the following year, he was asked to take the wheel of the U-65 Miss Squire Shop II. That would be LaRock’s last involvement in unlimited racing.
He went into business as a home builder and land developer for the next 25 years, tried retirement for a while, went into a partnership on a small-batch concrete business that sadly ended in litigation, then became a real estate investor near his home in Bothell, Washington. He passed away on June 30, 2016, at the age of 69.
The following interview was conducted by David Speer in December 1974, at a time when rumors were rife about the fate of the U-95 turbine boat and its future and shortly after Pamela Clapp gave 28-year old LaRock the nod as the new owner and urged him “to put a little love into it.”
The interview first appeared in the July 1975 issue of the Unlimited NewsJournal.
Your first boat was the ex-Breathless II, ultimately called Miss Wickman.
Yes, he [Gilliam] had it sitting in his yard and I asked to buy it. I sold my Jaguar and my real estate and bought the boat. I lived in a dog kennel outbuilding for eight months in the middle of winter with it, with only a couch to my name. I worked
construction trying to save money to buy an engine with. All I had was the boat and it was all corroded, not even raceable. So, I went about a year and then met Tom Martin. I persuaded him to sponsor a boat. And with that money I was able to buy a couple of engines, that old truck, and went racing the first year.
Unlimited Racing Group
After a successful 2019 season, the team hauled their boat north from San Diego and parked it into their shop in Edmonds, Washington (left). “Nice trip home from San Diego,” owner Scott Raney posted on Twitter, “boat inside the shop now time to sharpen up the sawzall blades! Here comes 2020.”
Mark your calendars. The organizers of the Guntersville Lake HydroFest have announced that they plan to be back for a third straight year of racing next summer on Guntersville Lake, Alabama. The race has been scheduled for June 27 and 28, 2020. They promise that more details will be coming soon.
How to start a hydro race.
ASK THE EXPERT
Pete LaRock: “Hydro Dreamer”
Detroit Hydrofest offers non-stop action.
Although no unlimiteds this year, the HRL Grand Prix boats, Hydro 350s, and Jersey Speed Skiffs did not disappoint.
Detroit fans get noise and close racing.
Do you have a question about hydroplane racing? Here’s your chance to get an answer. If you have a question about the sport, we’ll find the expert to answer it. This month’s question is about turbine engines, and nobody is better qualified to give the answer than John Walters, the first driver to win a race with a turbine-powered boat and an experienced crew chief and boatbuilder.
QUESTION: I am a big fan of NHRA drag racing and unlimited hydroplane racing. I am trying to understand what goes on during a weekend of hydroplane racing. For Top Fuel and Funny Cars the engines are adjusted for each run based on weather and corrected altitude. They may adjust the blower overdrive, cylinder pressure, advance spark and Nitro content. They will adjust the wing, air pressure in tires and primary and secondary clutch depending on track conditions.
What if anything can you adjust on the gas turbine based on weather and humidity? What happens from the first test section until the final heat as far as adjustments throughout the day? Wing, gear box and props? How many gear boxes, props do you bring to the race? What changes between qualifying and race set up? It seems as if HomeStreet has the field covered. What do they have that you need to be just as fast? As it is a brand-new boat, is it weight or something else?
Thanks for the information and I do enjoy the racing on the water. You put on a great show.
ANSWER: Hey there, well as far as engine adjustments, we really only have a few because we have limits on fuel flow and rpm, per our rules. The fuel flow will change slightly due to ambient air temp. There are governors on the rpm, one for N1, which
is the compressor speed and no rules concerning that. The N2 is the power turbine speed and has a governing adjustment and is monitored by H1 via onboard computer.
These are pretty major adjustments and most teams make them on a Dynamometer, not in the boat at the race site. The fuel flow is adjusted on site, at times. To get it as close to the maximum allowable by rules is critical for best engine performance and horsepower.
Because these are engines designed for aircraft, the fuel control adjusts and compensates for altitude/air density, temperature changes, etc.
As for hull changes, there are many. The easiest and most common are aerodynamic, front wings and rear wing. Props make a huge difference, too. Diameter changes the ride angle and height at the strut. This changes the angle of attack of the main
wing section, affecting lift. Pitch and rake change the ride and the acceleration along with gear ratios.
The teams with the bigger budget can afford more options as far as gears, gearboxes, props, skid fins, etc. This day and age, a lot depends on the driver’s skills and abilities to fly the boat. I hope this helps.
In the typical edition of the Unlimited NewsJournal, I take a few column-inches of space on the last page to offer a little insight from a fans perspective about what’s going on in the world of unlimited hydroplane racing. I call it offering my two cents worth.
This month, if you don’t mind, I’d like to offer a nickel’s worth instead because the sport is facing an issue that demands every fan’s attention.
During the past 20 years, hydroplane racing has certainly seen more than its fair share of challenges. Major sponsors have come and, sadly, gone. Race sites, too. Attendance at the races has suffered, perhaps as part of a declining interest
in motorsports in general, but also for other reasons we’ve discussed at other times.
Through it all, a general mistrust of the sport’s governing body has also grown among hydroplane fans. Much of the criticism of H1 Unlimited has been unfair, but some of it has been earned. In large margin, it’s been earned because those
who run the sport seem to have limited understanding of where their focus ought to be.
The people who run most sports organizations understand that they are in the entertainment business. They know that nothing happens, team owners don’t make money and athletes don’t get paid, unless there are butts in the grandstand seats and fans listening or watching at home.
Big-time boat racing is no different. Yet, too often, this sport operates through a decision-making process that focuses on the needs and wants of the boat owners and little else. The attitude says to the hydro fans, “Sure, come on down and watch us race our boats, but don’t expect us to cater to your interests, especially if it might inconvenience us.”
It was this attitude that manifested itself in the fiasco that occurred at the end of this year ’s Seattle race, when a victor was crowned before the winner was determined. And, in a public relations disaster to rank among the worst, it turned out that the guy who was presented with the trophy would in less than an hour be relegated to fifth place.
The culprit in that affair, in addition to the poor judgment of allowing the ceremony to proceed (and embarrassing the sport’s top sponsor in the process), was hydro racing’s dumbfounding process for starting a race. So, that’s where I’ll spend the remaining three cents of my nickel.
During the past 20 years of challenge in this sport, one aspect of racing has continually befuddled race officials: the process for starting a race. Try as they might, no matter the solutions put in place, the problem has never been resolved.
FROM THE UNJ VAULT:
Jones Racing Team
No official word on the team’s plans for the U-9 Delta
Realtrac next year, but driver Andrew Tate has provided a hint. He recently signed on to be the full-time driver of the GP-777 Steeler as it competes in next season’s Hydroplane
Racing League (HRL) Series. In a story announcing his signing, Tate says, “I will drive wherever HRL goes, it will be my priority. I spoke with Mike Jones, it is possible that the U-9 team take a break from the circuit Unlimited in 2020.” At right is Andrew Tate (left) with the owner of Steeler, Huey Newport.
Tate will replace another unlimited driver, Jimmy King, in the Steeler cockpit.
With his victory in the first preliminary heat at the San Diego HomeStreet Bank Bayfair Cup, Jimmy Shane clinched his sixth national championship in the past seven seasons.
Shane also won another national title for the Miss HomeStreet, the third in the past four years, and gave the Miss Madison Racing Team its ninth championship.
Although he won only the first two events in the schedule, Shane finished the 2019 season with a comfortable 1,658-point lead over J. Michael Kelly and the U-12 Graham Trucking, the winner of the other three races.
Shane built his lead in the standings with his dominating performance in all but the winner-take-all final heats. He was the fastest qualifier at all five races, had a perfect weekend at the Gold Cup in Madison, and until the final heats were held, also had perfect weekends underway at the Tri-Cities, Seattle, and San Diego.
(A perfect weekend occurs when a boat is the fastest qualifier and wins each heat that it enters.)
In all, Shane and the Miss HomeStreet won 19 of the 23 heats entered during the course of the 2019 campaign.
Did this thing ever take a dream form? Was there ever a specific point where you recognized you definitely wanted an unlimited hydroplane?
I felt a kinship with hydroplanes and a likeness with hydroplane racing from a very early age. I’ve been totally comfortable with it
ever since I was a youngster. When I bought my first boat, everybody thought I was just crazy. They said, “You’re getting into a millionaire’s game.” But, for some reason, it
didn’t come across to me like that because I’m a fairly strong-willed person, because—the money, the expertise, the emotional strain—
none of that mattered. I wanted to do it. It didn’t scare me in the least. It was raw desire that made me do it. I didn’t have any other reasoning beyond that.