Originally created 07/18/04

Hipwell stays on top of class



Top fuel hydro driver John Hipwell remained the top qualifier in his field Saturday after a long, balmy day for fans and drivers at the 19th annual Augusta Southern Nationals drag boat races.

The Landing, N.J., auto mechanic, who finished first in the 2003 Nationals - and whose Friday practice run yielded a stunning speed of 222.98 mph - will be paired with eighth-place qualifier Ron McClellan of Ontario when action resumes today.

Despite temperate weather and near-perfect racing conditions at Augusta Riverfront Marina, some of the high-powered top fuel boats didn't fare well.

Late in the day, driver Greg Tedesco of California surprised thousands of spectators when his boat, Loose Cannon, caught fire after what race officials speculated was a lifted blower.

"We have a pop - and a boom - and a flash of flame," announcer Rick Carlson said as rescue boats streamed toward the stranded vessel.

Tedesco yelled for emergency officials to extinguish the fire, and even grabbed an extinguisher himself in efforts to curtail the flames near the rear of the boat. Eventually, rescue boats were forced to sink Loose Cannon to finally quell the flames.

The top fuel hydro qualifiers with their times and speeds, are: first place Hipwell, 4.909 and 229.78 mph; second, Daryl Erlich, 5.368 and 218.72 mph; third, Scott Lumbert, 5.684 and 163.88 mph; fourth, Tedesco, 5.827 and 176.98 mph; fifth, Joe Reinhardt, 5.919 and 181.60 mph; sixth, John Irvine, 5.944 and 207.18 mph; seventh, Jerry Kutz, 6.415 and 110.34 mph; and eighth, Ron McClellan, 6.449 and 146.70 mph. Frank Carter is the alternate and will be offered a spot if any other driver is unable to race.

In the Top Alcohol Hydro competition, Tim Stokes of Eufala, Ala., was the top qualifier, with a 5.373 ET and a 217.82 mph run. Next was Ted Faggert with 5.530 and 211.16 mph; third, Andy Reynolds, 5.654 and 208.10 mph; fourth, Bob Genther, 5.820 and 202.88 mph; fifth, Mike Robbins, 7.703 and 89.74 mph; and sixth, Terry Newton, 15.864 and 43.48 mph.

In the Top Alcohol Flat competition, Grass Valley, Calif., driver Dave Ferguson posted his best-ever performance to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot with an ET of 6.771 and 153.92 mph. In the Pro Mod field, the No. 1 qualifier was Ontario driver Bob Montgomery, with a time of 7.07 and 164.16 mph.

The action continues today with gates opening at 8 a.m., with eliminations scheduled to begin mid-morning. The event has a total purse of $140,000 and benefits the Augusta chapter of the Georgia Special Olympics.

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