Originally created 05/15/98

Taking a ride on the wild side

I entrusted Bill Seebold Jr. with my life Thursday.

As a way to promote the Augusta River Race this weekend, members of the Bud Light Racing team invited me to ride shotgun in one of their Formula One Prop power boat machines. The only way to properly pen a boat's raw power is to feel the G-forces themselves.

I wouldn't call myself a chicken when it comes to toppin' the 100 miles per hour barrier, but it should be noted that as a child I cried heading into the Haunted House at the Magic Kingdom.

My bravado is building, albeit slowly, and sitting next to Seebold knowing that we could flip at any time certainly may be my courage apex.

"Who's your next victim?" called out Gene Staulcup, the race's co-chair, knowing that I donned the necessary orange helmet and life vest.

There was much comfort when Seebold's crew informed me that he had won more Formula One power boat races than any other man, yet when I peeked in and saw no brake pedal, I wanted to trot right up the Riverfront Marina dock.

"Don't worry, Bill hasn't had a major crash since last fall in San Diego," said Rick Stoff, the team's publicist. "And the boat you're ridin' in has never flipped."

PHEW!! With this information, and after seeing a few other willing guinea pigs ride along for a couple laps, I signed the release form that excluded Seebold and his team from any liability.

That would be just my luck. It seems the only time you see power boat racing highlights is when one of those two-seaters goes airborne, spectacularly crashing in a heap of waves, slow-motion replays chronicling every upside-down turn.

Crewmen hunkered me down with an assortment of harnesses, though that still didn't mean I didn't bounce off the boat's wall.

Heading for the course's first turn, Seebold did his best to explain how the racer thinks, how the river course will be set up, and especially how safe we'd be Thursday.

"This is nothing today," Seebold said. "There's no one around us, so all you've got to do is sit back and relax. It's gets a lot rougher when you've got 20 boats around you, splashing water on your windshield, troughs bouncin' your boat and all. I'm going to get you in racing shape."

Well, that's what I thought he said as we zoomed 110 mph up the Savannah. Finally, I found a vehicle louder than my Mazda on life-support.

Up the first straightaway we went, our machine seemingly airborne yet handling with intense ease. And then came Turn Two.

One of the last things Seebold's handlers showed me was the coward bar, a blue grip arm's length in front of me, something I could clutch if the turn proved too rough. They didn't warn me about the G's, nor the not-so G-rated blurbs produced from first-time scaredy cats.

So, 110 mph we sped northward, then 105 mph in the turn.

Seebold's hands were at 10 and 2, then he yanked the steering wheel in a complete revolution only seen around Broad Street's medians. I knew the turn was coming, but that didn't stop me from crashing into the side hard enough to worry about popping a hole.

Three laps of wall-splittin' turns. No stretching for the coward bar. One huge head rush.

Once he killed the motor, Seebold said that Sunday's PROP championship race will have 20 boats traveling up to 140 mph, the chance of crashing and catastrophe coming with every stop-on-adime left turn.

Don't ever think these guys aren't athletes. They've got more chutzpah underneath their helmet than you or I can ever dream of having.


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