Nate Brown’s Miss Red Dot makes most of shoestring budget

August 4, 2011

By Bob Condotta

NEW — 10 a.m. Aug. 4, 2011

Now, it’s being mentioned as the leader of the rest of the pack after the two boats generally considered the favorites — the Oh Boy! Oberto and the Spirit of Qatar.

“Are you kidding?” said owner Nate Brown, when asked about hearing his team mentioned as a contender. “To me, that’s a victory.”

Taking the next step to actually winning a race such as Sunday’s Albert Lee Cup at Seafair?

For now, that might take a little luck — and a bigger checkbook.

“The only thing holding us back (from the two leading boats) is gear ratios and the willingness to blow up motor boats,” said Brown. “I just don’t have the budget to do what it takes, the budget to be able to do that.”

Still, Red Dot is the surprise of the hydro season.

The Red Dot, driven by Brown’s nephew, Kip, has won all five of its preliminary heats and has placed second, fourth and third in the three final heats to amass 4,177 points for the season — second behind the Qatar (the boat driven by Dave Villwock).

Legendary driver Chip Hanauer, who will be part of the broadcast team for Sunday’s race, calls the Red Dot the “Cinderella story” of the season.

“I am in awe of what the Red Dot team and Nate Brown have done,” Hanauer said. “These guys are on a complete shoestring budget and from what I understand it’s mostly volunteer work. I give them a tremendous amount of credit.”

For Brown, it’s a labor of love.

A longtime driver who won Seafair in 2001 and the Gold Cup in 2004, he has essentially retired from the cockpit (he occasionally gets in the boat and doesn’t rule out he’d drive it if necessary).

Brown, a native of Preston, has also been a longtime boat builder and had a team put together that was working on a vintage hydro. But he said it had always been “a dream” to build his own unlimited hydro and run a program.

“We had a group of guys from various walks of my life, from the yacht club to my son’s racing team to just friends and neighbors, and we had so much fun doing the vintage that we said, ‘Let’s do the unlimited,’ ” he said. “I’d built three or four of them (for others), so I know how to build a boat. We got these materials and some people together and just started doing it.”

That was in 2006.

Brown and crew have used some of their own money to fund the project, as well as having a sponsorship from Red Dot, a Seattle-based company that designs and builds climate-control components, among other things.

Brown knew it would take a while to reach a competitive level.

“We had a five-year plan to go race,” he said.

This is year five, and the team has met Brown’s goal of being able to be the third-highest qualifier at each event.

Brown, who is the operations manager at Snoqualmie Casino in his day job, thought the team was close to achieving it a year ago, but said handling problems got in the way.

Villwock, however, helped the team with a skid-fin issue, which Brown says has the boat just about at peak speed. To take the next step he’ll need a major sponsor.

“We’ve been lucky,” he said. “We’ve had some good heat draws and put ourselves in a good spot. As far as boat speed goes, we are still five miles off the pace. I just don’t have the money to do it.”

Notes

The sport’s organizing body, H1 Unlimited, announced Wednesday that plans for a race in Houston next month are off due to a drought. H1 Unlimited said the water level in Clear Lake is too low. It’s hoped the race can be held in 2012. Houston would be a new venue for the circuit, hoping to add to the five races it has set in the U.S. for this season. The remaining races after this weekend are in San Diego, Sept. 16-18, and Doha, Qatar, Nov. 17-19.

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