Boat racers from all over the country — including Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — took over Lake Lawrence Friday, Sept. 13, through Sunday, Sept. 15.
Most of them were there for one thing — the need for speed.
The Seattle Outboard Association sponsored the races. All along the lake’s shore, people tinkered endlessly with their boats’ engines looking to increase their chances of setting records. Above all the noise was the jet-screaming sound of outboard motors.
“Lake Lawrence is the fastest water in the world,” said Dwight Malhiot, of Bremerton, who has been involved with racing boats for 50 years. “People came here to set speed records.”
Malhiot and others said the lake is perfect because it’s at sea level so there is more oxygen to fuel the boats. The wakes from the boats are muted by the reeds and low movement of water in and out of the lake, and the air is cool.
All those factors make for a fast lake.
Allen Thorsen from Bend, Oregon, worked on his C Service Runabout named His Honor.
“It’s a new boat,” he said. “I bought it from the mayor of Tacoma and left the name.”
“This week is a speed week,” he added. “People are setting records here in Yelm and many will go on to Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City next weekend to try and break records there.”
Lake Lawrence’s race course involves tight turns. One lap is a mile and a quarter. Each race is four laps for a complete five-mile race.
On Friday, the first day, the races didn’t start on time. The announcer kept saying, “We’re still waiting on the ambulance to arrive.”
An ambulance is important to have nearby.
With boats reaching top speeds of 70 to 90 miles per hour, or even occasionally 100 miles per hour, everyone is careful. All drivers must wear life vests, helmets and Kevlar vests. When driving the boat, the racers have one hand on the throttle, which is on a spring, and the other hand on the steering wheel.
If a racer should be injured or thrown from the boat, the fuel stops flowing when the hand comes off the throttle. Additionally, the racers are attached to the engine with a string that, if jerked, kills the engine.
Penny Anderson, of Edmonds, has been involved with boats for 55 years since she was 16 years old and living in the Puget Sound area. Her entire family is into racing boats. She was the first woman commodore of the American Power Boat Association.
While her family members prepared to start an engine on shore next to her, she instructed a bystander, “The engine is really loud. Open your mouth. The noise is that bad. That helps with the concussion of the sound.”
With the engine roaring, she said “that engine sounds crisp. I know every part name of a flat head engine.”
What boat did she like to race?
“God, no!” she said, laughing. “I don’t like the water. I hate getting my face wet.”
Children 9 years old and up can also race.
“The kids can go about as fast as 40 to 50 miles per hour,” Malhiot said.
For safety, their motors have a governor that keeps them from traveling at higher speeds.
Rust and Carol Dodge have been helping with the races since 1977. Rust is a surveyor by trade. He also designed the course for the weekend’s races and has designed many other courses all over the United States. He taught his wife to help survey and together they carefully check and watch the many large, inflated orange buoys that mark the course.
“For a race record to be valid, the distance has to be carefully marked and measured, and the buoys must be maintained in place,” Rust said. “If a racer bumps a buoy, they need to tell us immediately so we can adjust.”
Carol called to him that a buoy looked deflated and out of place. Rust said ruefully, “When they hit a buoy, they don’t always tell us which is why we check all the time.”
Rust took a boat out to check the buoy. He came back with the buoy slashed from a boat hitting it. He then took a new buoy out and, using the radio, he and Carol placed the new one in the proper place.
Katie Brown, 10, from Preston, was one of the youngest racers. She and several other youths in the 9 to 14 age group approached the starting line. The races start across the lake about a half mile from the shore where the boats waited.
Each race is started by officials on a nearby barge. The boats in motion need to cross the starting line at a precise time as signaled by flags held up by an official. Before one race was started, the kids in the race started doing donuts in their boats while waiting to head for the starting line.
“They aren’t supposed to be doing that,” murmured an adult watching from the shore.
The announcer called out that the race was temporarily cancelled. All children from the race needed to return to shore for a talk about protocol. Several races later, they were then allowed to race.
Findley Echols, 13, from Redmond, has been racing since she was 11.
She came in second in her first race of the day.
“But I jumped the race, so I was disqualified,” she said.
What does she like about boat racing?
“I love the adrenaline rush,” she said. “I like being with my friends. I’ll always race even when I’m grown up.”