1997 Chrysler Jeep APBA Gold Cup

Pierce Eludes Serious Harm in Crash

DETROIT -- [May 29, 1997] Scott Pierce, 41-year-old veteran unlimited hydroplane driver from Edmonds, Wash., escaped serious injury after his Wellness Plan boat was demolished in a 195-mile-an-hour crash Thursday morning on the wind-blown, rain-pelted Detroit River course. The accident occurred during the first of two days' qualifying for this weekend's 90th Chrysler Jeep APBA Gold Cup race.

Pierce, who blew over at approximately the same spot while driving the Mr. Pringles hydroplane during the 1989 Spirit of Detroit Thunderfest race, was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital as a precautionary measure. He appeared to be suffering only from minor cuts and bruises. The drivers are protected by F-14 fighter jet canopies. The $250,000 hull was destroyed and sank shortly after Pierce was pulled out by Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association rescue personnel. The boat is owned by Fred Leland of Kirkland, Wash.

Driving rains and 20-knot winds greeted the UHRA Thunder Tour '97, presented by Las Vegas, as an 11-boat field girded for the sport's most prestigious event. Another day of time trials will precede the race, which is set for Saturday (two preliminary heats) and Sunday (two preliminary heats and a winner-take-all final).

ESPN2 will telecast the final, live, on Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m. (EDT).

The course was closed after the accident, with Dave Villwock and the Miss Budweiser atop the qualifying ladder with a two-lap (five-mile) average of 158.724 miles an hour. It reopened in the afternoon, by which time nine of the ten teams here had posted qualifying times. If Ed Cooper Jr.'s Mill Bay Casino is unable to compete (fitting a new hull is a task his Evansville, Ind.-based crew may not accomplish in time for the race), this would be the first all-turbine Gold Cup in history.

Pierce had just concluded a 157-mile-an-hour lap and was headed for the 160 mph threshold when his boat was picked up by a gust of wind while entering the tight "Roostertail" turn at the east end of the 2.5-mile course.

The boat is not likely to be rebuilt this season. The question of whether Leland will maintain a second team remains to be answered. Pierce, upon returning from the hospital, wore a knee brace to protect a slightly gimpy left knee. He chatted with reporters and broadcasters and seemed to be in good humor, despite the disappointment of losing what he called "the fastest boat here."

The big boats are racing for a $210,000 purse, as well as the solid gold, Tiffany-constructed APBA Challenge Cup, which was first introduced in 1904.