Rough waters continue for Miss Red Dot

August 7, 2012

By Matt Carstens

Miss Red Dot racing in Heat 2B of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities. By David Cormier

Issaquah driver is out of Seafair after crash

It was just your typical 190 mph morning stroll along the waters of the Columbia River when Miss Red Dot driver Kip Brown took the ride of his life.

“We had a steering failure,” he said. “At that point, it went into a pretty violent hook and I was just along for the ride.”

The boat went airborne, lifting three tons of twisted metal into the sky. Upon its arrival back into the river, Brown felt a pain in his left leg. The wing pedal had kicked back and broke his ankle.

“I can safely say that that’s by far the worst impact I’ve had,” Brown said. “I’ve crashed several times in other boats, but never in an unlimited before. When you’ve got over 7,000 pounds going over 200 mph, things can get out of control. Bad things can happen.”

Kip’s uncle Nate Brown, a co-owner of Miss Red Dot and a veteran driver himself, watched from the shore in horror as the wreck unfolded.

“Put yourself in my shoes,” Nate said. “Your brother’s son is out there running around, you see him do some funky, weird, violent thing, he comes in and says his leg hurts and it’s broken … how do you think I feel?”

On top of seeing his nephew fly through the air with not the greatest of ease, Kip’s injury meant that Nate had to step into the cockpit.

“It’s one of those things where we all understand racing is dangerous,” Nate said. “You don’t want to injure anyone, let alone family members. I felt really bad about that.”

Nate had not raced in two years, and was planning on racing a heat in the state’s Tri-Cities in order to keep his license. He wasn’t ready for a whole weekend of racing in the Columbia Cup.

“Jumping into last weekend I wasn’t prepared, honestly,” he said. “I was prepared to re-qualify, but I wasn’t prepared to race all weekend. My head wasn’t in it — I was late on the start every time.”

After Kip Brown’s crash on July 27, the crew was up until midnight repairing the boat in the pits. On July 28, Nate hit a hole in a turn and completely submerged the boat, so they were up all night again repairing it. On July 29, a $30,000 gearbox broke.

“We kind of surrendered to be honest with you,” co-owner John O’Brien said. “We had two more gearboxes but with the weekend that we’d had, we’d just take our lumps.”

So the team headed west to Lake Washington with a fresh gearbox, paint job and some fiberglass.

“Hope springs eternal,” O’Brien said.

Just like riding a bike

When asked what adjustments he would make heading into the Seafair races Aug. 3, Nate Brown said only one thing would help.

“I’ve just got to smash my head against a brick a bunch of times until the swelling goes up until the pressure goes in my brain a lot, so I don’t have to think totally straight,” he said.

That technique must have done something right. Miss Red Dot qualified fifth that day.

“We started out one way and we ended up here really really great,” Nate said. “It feels really good to be in the cockpit filling in for Kip here while he’s mending, and he’s been doing an awesome job on the radio steering me around the course. It’s almost like I’m a crash-test dummy out there. He’s just driving me around. It’s great.”

Nate, who has been driving hydroplane boats for more than 20 years, knows the basics on how to prepare for a race of this magnitude.

“Preparation is just getting some good sleep,” he said. “Thinking about it, concentrate on what’s going on. It’s just a race boat, it’s just racing. You try to put yourself in a good spot. To start with, we have to keep the boat in one piece, and the rest of the it is just trying to get everything right.”

Nate hadn’t driven Miss Red Dot in a while simply because there’s been no reason to.

“I could have jumped in more often, but because Kip is getting dialed in, it doesn’t do me any good to get in the boat,” he said. “He needs to see time, not me. I’ve got 23 years in this thing. Kip’s the future, I’m just the owner so I’m just kind of filling in.”

Sitting on the sidelines

For Kip Brown, watching from the pit isn’t really something he’s used to.

“It’s tough to not be in control of what’s happening,” Kip said. “The good thing is I have such great confidence in the crew, and also in Nate. He’s a world-class driver, so if it can’t be me in there controlling my own destiny, I love having Nate in there controlling the team’s destiny.

“He’s way beyond a backup — he’s the heart and soul of this operation. When we get an opportunity to have him behind the wheel that’s great.”

Even though the Tri-Cities crash was by far the worst of his career, Kip said it wouldn’t affect him going forward, partly because it wasn’t his fault.

“Had I wrecked because of driver error, I’d probably be a little more apprehensive than I feel like I will be,” Kip said. “There’s always potential complications in a motor sport. This sport, though I feel it’s safe, it’s not as safe as golfing. I don’t feel like I’m going to hold back at all, in fact I’ve got nothing but confidence in our team and frankly I can’t wait to get back in it. If my leg would let me, I’d be back in it today.”

Fortunately for Kip the timing of his injury won’t keep him on the sidelines for very long. He is expected to be out at least a month, which puts him in good shape to return to the unlimited circuit in September in San Diego, Calif.

As for the season, it’s been a tough one for the Issaquah native.

“It’s been frustrating,” Kip said. “We had a good event in Madison. We won a heat, finished fourth in the final. In Detroit, we had nothing but Murphy’s Law, just one problem after another after another, and then we had a poor weekend in Tri-Cities as well, so we’re much further down in the national points that we’re accustomed to being.

“We’re just trying to find an event to turn it around and that needs to be here in Seattle so that we can save face for our sponsors.”

Disappointment on Lake Washington

The rough season continued for Miss Red Dot as the team did not qualify for the final heat at the Albert Lee Cup at Seafair.

For Kip, despite the tough weekend, Seafair will always hold a special place in his heart.

“I grew up here watching Malco run Seafair,” he said. “Even before he was running I used to go out on the log boom and watch Chip Hanauer and Jim Kropfeld racing side by side out there in the Atlas family on Miss Budweiser. To be able to participate in a sport at this level, where I emulated the racers before me, is nothing short of a dream come true.”

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