1990 Budweiser Thunder on The Ohio

Hydroplanes ready for Thunder

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Bonnie Anderson-Kropfeld will spend much of today fighting an urge to chew her fingernails as her husband and at least seven other hydroplane drivers approach 200 mph in the annual Thunder on the Ohio.

There have been significant leaps in unlimited hydroplane safety over the past decade, but racing around the 2-mile Ohio River course remains hazardous.

"I’m not the hysterical type but I’ll jump if things don’t look right," Anderson-Kropfeld said. To ease her nerves while husband Jim Kropfeld drives the Winston Eagle, she clicks her fingernails together and smokes cigarettes.

Thunderboat drivers constantly face increasing speeds. A world record was set Friday, when Tom D’Eath in the Miss Budweiser averaged 160.122 mph in his first qualifying lap for the Evansville race.

Two other drivers surpassed the course record of 150.407 set last year, including another of the race favorites, Chip Hanauer in the Miss Circus Circus. He hit 154.328 mph Saturday.

George Woods Jr. in Mr. Pringle's reached 150.521 mph in Saturday’s qualifying.

Five other drivers qualified for the $132,000 Thunder: Kropfeld in the Winston Eagle at 150.175 mph, Mike Hanson in Risley's Holset-Miss Madison at 134.917 mph, Mitch Evans in Miss Chiro Choice at 128.601 mph, Steve David in ARC Construction at 110.573, and Jerry Hopp in Paddock Pools at 107.250.

A ninth, Oh Boy! Oberto driven by Mark Tate, was expected to seek qualification this morning.

About 70,000 spectators are expected for the race.

Hydroplanes, which ride with their front ends lifted out of the water, have a tendency to flip over backwards.

Before enclosed cockpits were mandated last year, blow-overs often were fatal.

Now drivers are held inside closed cockpits, an innovation added by Budweiser in 1986. Drivers are held in with five-point safety belts and are linked to a supply of compressed air.

Miss Budweiser driver Tom D’Eath flipped his boat in Evansville two years ago and escaped unscathed.

"If they weren’t safer than the old days, I wouldn’t be here talking to you," he said. "It’s still dangerous, but it’s more on a par with auto racing.

The Miss Circus Circus crew is testing a new boat they believe will be their safest yet because of increased stability and better handling. They hope to race it before the season’s end.

The boat has three wing sections, instead of the usual two, and each section has adjustable flaps controlled by the driver.

(Associated Press)