Originally created 07/17/04

Boat racers going plumb crazy



Jerry Kutz will tell you there is something magical and satisfying about jolting from zero to 215 mph in three seconds in a boat packed with 500 cubic inches of snarling engine.

"It makes you feel like your eyeballs are getting pushed straight back in your head," said Kutz, who will drive his top fuel hydro contender - aptly named Plumb Crazy - in this weekend's Augusta Southern Nationals.

The Plumb Crazy moniker could apply to anyone daring enough to steer the noisy vessels along the Savannah River's quarter-mile course, but it has a dual meaning for the 39-year-old from Santa Rosa, Calif.: "I'm also a plumber!"

Kutz, 39, started racing just a few years ago and quickly became hooked on drag boats.

"I went to a race in May of 2000 and got interested, and started out with a smaller boat," he said. Now he races top fuel hydro, which includes some of the fastest boats on the planet.

"It was like going from a Cessna to an F-18," he said. "It keeps things interesting."

Kutz is among one of the largest fields of Top Fuel Hydro teams at this year's races, which mark their 19th year in Augusta.

Friday's session was "tune and tinker day," with drivers and their teams testing and setting up equipment. Today, competition begins in earnest with qualifying rounds.

John Hipwell, who finished first in the 2003 Nationals with his 5.023-second elapsed time run of 222.98 mph, was optimistic about some great performances this weekend before the crowds at Augusta Riverfront Marina.

"I'm pretty sure we're going to see some four-second runs this year," the auto repair business owner from New Jersey said. "And I think you'll see some high miles per hour on a lot of them, too."

True to his word, Hipwell later made a flawless test run of his boat, Madness, recording a blistering 4.695 at 230.70 mph - a speed faster than his winning performance last year.

Also Friday, one of the Top Fuel Hydro contenders - Speed Sport Special driven by Frank Carter - sank at the starting line while waiting for the course to clear. The vessel was recovered by safety officials and Carter was unhurt, but disappointed.

In all, about 15,000 spectators are expected throughout the weekend, and Friday's crowds consumed plenty of beer and burgers and used up quarts of sunscreen.

Today's action begins at 10 a.m., although gates open at 8. The final elimination rounds will be held Sunday.

Tickets are $15 at the gate, $25 for two-day series badges and $50 for patron badges. The event, with total awards of more than $140,000, benefits the Augusta Chapter of the Georgia Special Olympics.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.