1985 Budweiser Unlimited Regatta

Minnow to Megapower

Veteran is Hydro Rookie at Head of the Class

By Craig Davis, Outdoors Writer

MIAMI — Andy Coker hopes his debut as an unlimited hydroplane driver lasts longer than his introduction to powerboat racing.

The West Palm Beach native was 10 when he climbed into a plywood contraption known as a Minnow-Max for the start of the Gold Coast Marathon. Powered by an eggbeater outboard, he covered about 10 yards before the little boat flipped.

“The Minnow-Max, the fastest minnow in the world. There was a class for those things at one time. You could order them from Popular Mechanics. It went 20, maybe 22 [mph],” Coker recalled, though not fondly. “I wouldn’t drive one now if you paid me.”

The abortive beginning didn’t deter him from racing boats. In the subsequent 27 years, Coker has covered the gamut of outboard and inboard racers. This weekend he adds the exclamation point to his racing career, joining the fastest, most boisterous fraternity of all in the unlimited class.

On Sunday he will slip into the cockpit of the three-ton American Speedy Printing/Miss Madison and unleash 2,500 horses of roaring turbocharged Allison V-12 power in the $110,000 Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Regatta. He was one of four drivers who recorded qualifying speeds of better than 100 mph Friday — he clocked 101.181 — at Miami Marine Stadium.

The journey to this point has been governed more by fate than design. Coker had no interest in driving limited-class inboards before he was offered a ride in a 280-class boat in 1978. The experience changed Coker’s outlook on hydroplanes — he holds the straightaway record in the 280 class — but he never seriously contemplated driving an unlimited boat before the American Speedy Printing team contacted him about filling the seat vacated by Ron Snyder.

From Minnow-Max to megapower, racing has been one revelation after another for Coker. He took his first unlimited ride last month at Madison, Ind., home of the community-owned hydro.

“I’m used to running a 7-liter [hydroplane] with a 427-cubic-inch engine. The first time I drove this I wasn’t quite expecting what I got. It goes from 100 to 155 in about one second. It sure keeps your attention. I was very impressed,” he said before Friday’s qualifying run.

A seventh-generation Floridian, Coker brings a refreshing wit as well as a rare heritage to the circuit. If not the fastest on the race course, he is certain to be the quickest with a quip in the pits.

Reflecting on fast times on lakes in Central Florida, he said, “It was very conducive to duck hunting. At 80 mph, the ducks would never see you coming.”

His reflections are similarly colorful of exploits in the old Gold Coast Marathon. Racers turned out in everything from outboard-powered bathtubs to motorized pontoons strapped to their feet for the wild dash along the Intracoastal Waterway from Miami to Palm Beach and back Just to finish was always a triumph

The same is often true in unlimited races — the equipment is subject to tremendous strains — so a sense of humor is handy to bridge frustration. With Coker, it is clearly a tension-breaker. There is a serious side close to the surface, and it asserts itself on the race course and when he discusses the impending challenge.

“I am a little bit nervous. You’ve got to be a little apprehensive going into this for the first time, but I’m not scared to death. It’s a very competitive field and I haven’t had a lot of time in the boat,” he said.

The newest unlimited driver will be piloting the oldest and most historic boat on the circuit. The 12-year-old U-6 hull ranks second all-time with 22 victories and has accounted for four national championships (1973-76). Although a dinosaur in this fleet, there is some spunk left in the old warrior. Coker had it up to 160 mph with power to spare at Madison. He figures it can still top 190 on a straightaway.

Having all that power underfoot is a sobering responsibility. In addition, Coker must contend with the added pressure of debuting in his home territory

Though a rookie at this level, he knows boat racing too well to deny the realities of it, so he makes no pretences.

“Everybody where I’m from expects me to go out and win. If I could run third with it, I d be happy,” he said. “For the first two or three races, I’ll just be trying to get it figured out.”

NOTES: Scott Pierce in the Executone led Friday’s qualifiers with an average speed of 113.208 mph around the 1⅔-Mile oval course In addition to Coker, Leif Borgersen in the Frank Kenney Toyota (111.941 mph) and Steve Reynolds in the turbine-powered Miss 7-Eleven (109.991 mph) surpassed the 100-mph barrier. Qualifying continues today from 10 a m -5 p m Racing begins at noon Sunday. The new Miss Budweiser is expected to arrive late tonight and will attempt to qualify Sunday morning.

(Reprinted from the Fort Lauderdale News, June 8, 1985)