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Racing 2012

A Rookie's introduction to SST 45

About roaring contenders and some surprises at the 2012 Showdown on the Sabine

Hans Küffner-McCauley"Formula light drivers you now have 20 seconds, 20 seconds and the flag is up!" Joe is lying on the pier and holds the 45 cubic inch motor with both hands while John holds the ring behind the cockpit of Hans' boat with a long pole in a slight diagonal position. At any second the yellow flag will drop and then the colorful SST 45 tunnel boats will fire up and thunder over the green water of the Sabine River between the Louisiana and Texan border. It's Sunday and the final will start within any second. Hans, the 21year old blond, and his ten contenders have already closed their cockpits, ready to flip the start switches. All are sweating in the narrow space of the safety capsules, strapped in with racing vest, helmet, and some with fire-retardend safety suits, microphone head set and even a few with oxygen masks. Moments of intense expectation. No time to breath.

Hans' good startThe flag drops! Hans's boat roars ahead some neighboring boats from the start dock covered with onlookers. How will the rookie do? The rooster tails from the rear of the tunnels build an impenetrable wall. Hans turns well around the first buoy. Yelling is everywhere. "Keep it up!" "Good job, get it done!" All crew chiefs shout non-stop something into their microphones attached to headsets. Drivers seem to be nearly deaf, in the opinion of their helpers on the start dock. The air is filled with screaming motors, booming voices, heat, sweat, and exhaust.

Hans' mama holds the camera button pressed, trying to film speed, zooming in and out. In her excitement she films more blue sky than the race. Joe, the father, stands next to her beside John, the crew chief. All 3 in blue shirts with the white McCauleyandSon-logo on the back.

"Look, something's wrong!", Joe shouts half-loud. Hans has just gone dead in the water in that far distant corner of the race course. Is the race already over for him? His boat is now dancing passively on the waves, like an onlooking pleasure boat. The other motors roar on past him. One contender less! The "Go, go, go, com'on!" means others now.

Mother drops her camera, father scratches his head and shields his eyes with his hand against the sun. But what's that: Suddenly number 22 springs into motion after having lost 2-3 laps. Hans rejoins the carousel of boats, whirling up a white tail of spray. The hunt continues, Hans gains ground, although in some respectful distance to the others. His engine, prop and driving skills are so good that he passes some serious contenders while driving the outside lane.

Then, screams from some female voices. Someone spun to the inside of the race course. But the roaring goes on. "Boat 22 is back in the race!" one of the announcers yells among all the noise, hardly audible. Hans is working his way forward in spite of having missed several laps. He even passes some boats on the straightaway.

Hans in front of Hailey GibbsSome laps later. Now, Doug, the man on the stand, gets the white flag out. Only one more lap to go! Then the checkered flag greets the winner, Mark Schmerbauch, of Greenfield, Wisconsin. His white and red tunnel bow shoots by, past the audience, answered by loud cheers from his team and friends. Others applaud. Hans also finally reaches the invisible finish line. He made it up to place 7.

"Wow, Hans, good job. " a contender pats him on the shoulder, after Hans has unstrapped himself and climbed out.

Some have done surprisingly well. Others have lost the fight due to major technical problems that they couldn't fix. Sometimes, the fix came in the last moment at the ramp. Or not. It's fun to watch when half a dozen men are all over the place, beneath, on top, running, trying to ready the rocket for takeoff in 5 minutes with duct tape and tie wraps. In the Formula 1 class the proud winner is number 55, the orange boat driven by Curtis Nunez, from Nederland, Texas. Major contenders had lost the battle due to such unforeseen challenges. Glyn Matthew's motor fell dead in a turn. Tracy Hawkins was plagued by water in the fuel. Mike Schubert's Johnson threw a rod. Nunez' motor outlasted the others in the endurance test.

In the Tri-hull class "Scary Jerry" Rinker from Spring, Texas, triumphs. A blond girl gets in the boat and proudly holds the checkered flag, riding behind him.

In the kids' J class it seems unfortunate that the one in front is always the strongest motor. But they all still have fun.

Now the sun is no longer so burning hot, everyone slowly relaxes, beer cans pop open, the victory celebration starts under the big party tent roof. On the little winners' podium in front of roughly 80 drivers, 3 men shake their champagne bottles and hose each other down. It looks like a cheerful end for everyone.

However, some had had really bad luck: the motor of the other young driver, 16 year old Haley Gibbs, was persistently on strike, heat after heat. Maybe a vicious electric problem. She barely had a chance to get off the ramp. Next time in May, in Port Neches, she hopefully is back and Hans has to watch out.

She could have been strong.

And the winner will be again --we know it already now-- duct tape, followed by tie wraps in a close second! I guess, I just send them also separately as single emails in the original format to be safe.

(published also in the Orange Leader, Sept 2012: