1988 Budweiser Thunderboat Championship

Pierce in, Kropfeld out of Detroit race

By Wylie Gerdes, Free Press Staff Writer

Only a day after his hydroplane somersaulted in a horrifying two-boat crash in Miami, Scott Pierce promised Monday night from his hospital room to be in Detroit with his team's No. 1 unlimited for this week's Budweiser Thunderboat championships on the Detroit River.

Pierce's Mr. Pringle's unlimited hydroplane and Miss Budweiser, driven by Jim Kropfeld, collided in the first turn of the final heat Sunday, the first race of the season. Kropfeld is being treated for a neck injury and Pierce took water in his lungs in the crash.

Pierce, sounding groggy but in good spirits, said he expects to be released today and be in Detroit Wednesday. The new Mr. Pringle's boat will be repaired for Sunday's race, Pierce said.

"We're coming to Detroit with our No. 1 boat and our only driver," he said.

Pierce said the team originally planned to run a backup boat in Detroit, but that boat does not have the jet-fighter style canopy that Pierce credited with saving his life when his boat landed upside down Sunday.

"I remember the water going by that canopy. That canopy was just super. It saved my life without a doubt.

"I don't think I could be the same old Scotty Pierce without it," he said.

Kropfeld is out for the Detroit race, and Bruce Madej, race spokesman, said he will be replaced by Tom D'Eath of Fair Haven, Mich. The Budweiser team will bring its backup boat to Detroit, Madej said.

Pierce said he and Kropfeld have rooms across the hall from each other.

"I go cheer him up as much as I can," Pierce said.

Kropfeld reportedly has a fractured vertebra in his neck, though Budweiser team officials and hospital officials could not be reached. Pierce said Kropfeld shows no evidence of paralysis.

Kropfeld's Miss Budweiser spun directly into the path of Pierce's boat in a sudden, unplanned turn that racers call a hook. Pierce's boat ran over the top of the Miss Budweiser and somersaulted, landing upside down.

"Jim would give anything not to have hooked that thing," Pierce said. "There wasn't much I could do but just run over him. It's a miracle the boats weren't hurt any worse than they were. It was quite a collision. It was no minor rubout."

Pierce said he was "plenty sore" but expects to drive in Detroit, even if it means qualifying Sunday before the race rather than during the week. "We'll be there to defend our trophy," said Pierce, who won last year's Detroit event.

Mr. Pringle's and Miss Budweiser had dominated the Miami race, but the accident left the gate open for George Woods to win in Oh Boy! Oberto, powered by a Rolls Royce piston engine.

(Reprinted from the Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1988)