Dean Chenoweth — 1979 Speed Record Attempt

Hydro Flips at 200 Mph

Driver Has a ‘Miracle’ Escape

by Bill Knight

Driver Dean Chenoweth, hurled from his cartwheeling unlimited hydroplane as it reached a speed of more than 200 miles per hour, miraculously escaped serious injury yesterday on Lake Washington.
Driver Dean Chenoweth, hurled from his cartwheeling unlimited hydroplane as it reached a speed of more than 200 miles per hour, miraculously escaped serious injury yesterday on Lake Washington.
Photo: Cary Tolman

Shooting for a world straightaway speed record, Chenoweth’s Miss Budweiser unlimited boat was destroyed in a spectacular flip which apparently was caused when the propeller broke.

Bernie Little, owner of the Miss Bud who watched in horror as the hydro went out of control and crashed violently, said later, "The Lord is the only one who could have saved Dean in an accident like this — and He did."

Taken to Harborview Medical Center’s intensive care unit, Chenoweth was reported last night "in stable and satisfactory condition." He suffered six broken ribs and a possible minor fracture of the pelvis.

Gene Whipp, chief referee for the sanctioning American Power Boat Association, called off the remainder of the world record assault immediately following the crash.

Chenoweth was thrown clear as the hurtling hydro slammed into the water, ripping its right, sponson off and splintering into hundreds of pieces. The driver went skipping across the water for about 80 feet before coming to a halt, buoyed by a life jacket.

Rescue boats converged on the scene and Coast Guardsmen leaped into the water to aid the injured driver. Chenoweth was paddling with his arms soon after he hit the water and appeared to be conscious the entire time.

He was put on a litter and pulled from the water and pulled aboard a Coast Guard boat. After emergency treatment at the hydro pit area at Sand Point, he was taken to Harborview by emergency vehicle.

The mishap was a crushing finale on what owner Little and driver Chenoweth had hoped would be a successful assault on the one mile straightaway speed record of 200.419 mph which has survived for 17 years.

Earlier yesterday, Chenoweth clocked a series of a half-dozen speed runs in the Miss Bud, ranging from 181 to 193.548 mph. The fastest came about 1:35 p.m. and convinced Chenoweth and the rest of the racing team the record was within reach.

But the wind began to blow from out of the south and rumpled the waters of the course — stretching north on the east side of the lake from Denny Park — with an uncomfortable chop.

Conditions were too rough for a record attempt. So the wait began.

About 3 p.m., the Squire Shop unlimited — an older model, not the boat that was new this season — took a spin out from the Sand Point pits but coughed and went back in without a record try.

By now Chenoweth was about ready to give up and try again Wednesday. But the wind started to fade and the decision was made to go for it.

The powerful thunderboat, a huge roostertail streaming in its wake, took a wide circle then came roaring down the straightaway toward the measured mile course.

About 50 yards past the buoy marking the layout, the bow of the boat kited out of control and the boat did a slow roll before crashing down on its right side in an explosion of water.

Ron Jones, the designer and builder of the boat — which was new this past season estimated the speed of the hydro at the time of the mishap at about 215 mph.

"It looked to be like 215 but who knows what 215 looks like," said Jones, whose father, Ted Jones, was involved in a successful record run by Slo-Mo-Shun IV here in the early 1950s.

"He seemed to be going considerably faster than he was earlier at 193 mph plus," Jones said. "In the earlier runs he was more or less feeling the boat out for his own benefit, and justifiably so. By the time he got to where we were, he was really going — on it hard all the way."

Jones said he saw "a little splash behind the boat just as it was headed toward us.

"I can’t prove this but after seeing the remains upside down I would say the propeller broke off. When a prop breaks off then the shaft is still spinning very fast and it turns into a pretzel and tears up the boat and the boat loses all its drive.

"It drops the tail and of course it goes up in the air," he explained. "It’s like throwing a leaf into the wind when the propeller is gone. There’s nothing to stabilize the boat."

Like most of the other spectators in boats along the course and on shore, Jones was shocked when the boat went out of control.

"Oh, I didn’t see how he could survive," Jones said. "I’m just thrilled he’s all right."

Jones admitted being nervous when the testing began Tuesday’ morning but by mid-afternoon was growing confident that the record could be shattered.

"When I came here this morning I was shaking like a leaf. By the time I saw the boat run five or six times I got real relaxed. The water conditions were good — probably ideal — with a two to three-inch chop and three to five mph winds. The water and wind had nothing to do with what happened. I’m convinced it was a mechanical failure in the propeller."

There was no question on Jones’ part that Chenoweth was going for the record.

"In the earlier runs at about 200 mph he said the boat started pulling to the left. It was so totally airborne and the torque of the prop was enough to steer the boat to the left. I think the boat pulled itself over and he was over 200 and that’s why it was doing that.

"At that speed you don’t want to sit there and steer right. You let it go where it darn well wants to."

The boat had been riding almost perfectly in all earlier test runs.

"We couldn’t have asked for a better ride," Jones said. If he’d shown any indication all day feathering, floating or kiting — it would lave been, different. But the more we ran the more confident he got and the more confident I got. It looked batter and better.

"He did everything right; there was no boat problem, no driver problem." Then he added:

"It’s an absolute miracle he wasn’t hurt worse."

(Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 24, 1979)