Once the start flag goes down, powerboat racers feel a need for extreme speed, and legendary driver Reggie Fountain was feeling it extremely yesterday afternoon during the Chesapeake Challenge.
Entering the Offshore Class B competition, Fountain's team trailed Citgo Supergard Scarab by 11 points in the overall standings. After the first two laps of racing, Fountain said, he was dialed in and ready to make his move and pass the first-place boat, both in yesterday's race and in the standings.
"I spent the first two laps testing [the boat's performance]," said Fountain, who has won 97 races in his long career and will drive in the monster Open Class today. "On that third lap, I had built a quarter-mile lead on [Citgo], and I said, 'Drop the ballast and hold on. We're going for a ride.' "
Wyatt Fountain, Reggie's son and navigator in Offshore B, jettisoned 500 pounds of water ballast, and the 39-foot catamaran quickly picked up speed, reaching more than 100 mph.
But the Fountains' hopes for a rise in the standings went up in a large plume of black smoke.
Soon after Fountain passed Citgo Supergard, the eventual class winner yesterday, Wyatt Fountain, monitoring the course and the engines while Reggie steered and worked the throttles, reported a drop in oil pressure -- and a subsequent quick rise in engine water temperature.
"I let up on it, saw smoke in the mirror and I said, 'Oh, no,' " Reggie Fountain said.
The water pickup, an assembly on the back of the boat that gathers and delivers cooling water to the engines, had blown apart.
Within seconds, the Fountains were out of the race and a fire started in both 700-horsepower engines had spread to the hull and cockpit.
"It was pretty smoky in the cockpit real quick, but it only took a few seconds to get out," said Wyatt Fountain.
Fire and rescue boats and helicopters responded quickly, and the Fountains said neither was injured.
"Something like that rarely happens," said Wyatt Fountain. "And fires rarely develop into something that severe."
The boat and its engines appear to be a complete loss, Reggie Fountain said. "The fire just ate it up."
In Offshore A, Canon/Pitman Photo and Alehouse also had a close race, with the Alehouse team pulling off a close victory.
"It was really neck and neck," said Canon/Pitman driver Mike Werner. "It was a fun, challenging course a real heavy-duty amusement-park ride."
Werner said the course on the Patapsco River between Lazaretto Point and Fort Carroll was deceiving.
"It looked straight, but it really was a dogleg," Werner said, "and that kept racing real close for everybody."
A quarter of a mile per hour separated Canon/Pitman and Alehouse after 55 miles of racing.
In M'Ocean was dropped from first place to third in Offshore A by a three-minute penalty for mis-navigating the course.
In Factory 1, Kryptonite Racing, first across the finish line, was disqualified for not meeting class standards.
Among club racers who did well yesterday were Les Simmons of Severna Park and Ted Sanford of Baltimore. Simmons won Group C and Sanford won E.
Racing continues today, with starts scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.