Motor Racing / Pat Cannon : Drag Boat Driver Accepts the Dangers of His Trade

When speed surpasses 200 m.p.h., danger is not just in the air, it is right inside the cockpit.

“When you get up around 220, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a hurry,” said Dexter Tuttle, a drag boat racer from Rialto. “The boat gets out of control, and there really is no place to go. You’re just along for the end of what’s going to be an extremely bumpy ride. Wherever the boat throws you, that’s where you land.

“Fear is something that’s on your mind. I mean, you’d be an idiot not to think drag boat racing isn’t dangerous. I certainly don’t have a death wish. It’s something that can happen. But as long as you aren’t in over your head, it’s OK.

“Last year, was a tough year for the sport. We had a lot of accidents. My best friend (Jim Hobbs) was killed. But it goes in cycles. Look at all the airplane crashes this year. It seems like they are falling out of the sky. People do focus on the accidents, but it is an exciting spectator sport and it’s continuing to grow.”


Tuttle, who in April of 1984 established a world record of 223.32 m.p.h., will be piloting the Nitro Express Saturday and Sunday during the International Hot Boat Assn. Nationals at Puddingstone Lake in San Dimas. Gates will open both days at 7:30 a.m., with racing expected to start about 8.

Tuttle, who walked away from two crashes in 1984, believes that a recent IHBA reduction of the starting area has not only reduced speed, but has made the sport more competitive.

“You need ideal conditions to reach that kind of speed,” Tuttle said. “And I’m hoping for a cool, overcast day. But this year, I think we’ve had the top speed of 209 and I don’t think that’s close to what the boat is capable of doing.

“We’ve really had a problem adjusting to the new IHBA ruling. It makes the starts more competitive, but it’s been an adjustment getting used to the reduction in size of the commitment (starting) area. It used to be about 150 feet and that gave you plenty of room to get the boat at the proper angle in the water. Now it’s about 40 to 60 feet. I finally think I’ve got it figured out and I think you’ll see some more speed this weekend.”

Tuttle’s boat, a 19-footer owned by Tom Arens, has an engine that cost about $30,000, and an engine blowup is not an uncommon occurrence. Indeed, wiping out an entire craft can deplete even the most generous sponsor’s bankroll in a hurry, especially when this weekend’s first prize money in the Top Fuel Hydro class would net Tuttle $3,500.

“A lot of the guys make a transition into auto racing,” said Tuttle, who has been driving for 10 years. “There is far more sponsorship, and the purses are a lot bigger. But I enjoy the sport. Although being the record-holder is kind of awkward for me. It’s uncomfortable.

“It used to be I was always shooting at someone else. Now, everybody’s shooting at me.”

OFF-ROAD--The Frontier 500, which takes in 536 miles of Nevada’s mountain and desert terrain, will start at 7:30 Saturday morning in Las Vegas. Culver City’s Frank Arciero Jr. and Toyota teammate Ivan Stewart are among the favorites in the field of 200 four-wheeled vehicles. “I used to ride motorcycles in the desert,” Arciero said. “And I love being out there. The race is physically demanding but not as demanding as the mental challenge. You have to be alert at all times. It takes 120% concentration. The terrain can change so quickly, and the dust from the other vehicles keeps you constantly on guard.” Last year’s race ended at Reno, but this time the trail will run to Gabbs and then loop back to Beatty, about 160 miles from Las Vegas.


SPRINT CARS--In 13 years with the California Racing Assn., Carson’s Dean Thompson has compiled an impressive record. Saturday, the biggest winner in the history of the CRA will be trying for his 100th victory when he takes on the field at Ascot Park in the 30-lap main event. Thompson moved into position to reach 100 with consecutive wins over the Labor Day weekend. Eddie Wirth of Hermosa Beach turned in a third and second last weekend despite starting 14th and 10th in the two races and still leads the Kraco/CRA season standings with 1,575 points, 52 more than Carson’s Mike Sweeney. . . . After Saturday night’s race, CRA will take a week off to enable its cars and drivers to compete in a pair of World of Outlaws winged sprint car events. The Outlaws, headed Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell, will be at Santa Maria on Sept. 13-14 and then make their first Ascot appearance ever a week from Sunday.

MOTORCYCLES--Santa Ana’s Clark Sargis, holding a 200-point advantage over L.A.'s Udell Wilson, will try to extend his lead in the Fuel Funny Bike division Saturday and Sunday in the MDRA’s Fall Nationals at Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale. Saturday the gates open at 3 p.m. with qualifying and time trials scheduled to get under way at 6. Sunday’s elimination rounds will begin at 2 p.m. Other top riders expected to compete are Santa Fe Springs’ Byron Hines in Pro Stock, Ron Durham in Pro Comp and Tommy Bolton in Pro Street. . . . Mike Faria of Colton, the only four-time winner at Ascot this season, is expected to be on hand for tonight’s racing at the Gardena track. Faria is the top qualifier among Southern California riders for next month’s U.S. Speedway championships. . . . Cypress’ Sam Ermolenko, fresh from a solid third-place finish in the World Championships last weekend at Bradford, England, will be at Costa Mesa Speedway Friday night. Racing will start at 8 p.m. At Bradford, Ermolenko finished in a three-way tie with Denmark’s Hans Nielsen and defending world champion Eric Gunderson, but Gunderson won a four-lap runoff.

STOCK CARS--A $1,000 prize will be at stake when 75 enduro cars attempt to negotiate 200 laps Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway. John Skinner of Porterville, Stephen Johnson of Bakersfield and Daryl Johnson of Tehachapi will be in the front row. Racing will begin at 8:30. . . . Modifieds, sportsman and claimer stocks will be the bill of fare Saturday night at 6 at Saugus Speedway. Heading into Saugus’ last program before the double-point Grand Prix races Sept. 14 and Sept. 21, Ken Sapper, the current modified champion, is well on way his to another title, with a 240-point lead over Chuck Pittenger. . . . Jerry Gay and Mike Carver will continue their battle for the championship in the pro stock division Saturday night at 7:30 at the Cajon Speedway. Gay leads in the standings, 4,025 points to 4,010.