N. Mark Evans, a native of Chelan whose unlimited driving career began in 1979, thought his career was over in 2003 after he suffered serious injuries in a flip.
It has been 15 years since N. Mark Evans pulled off one of the most memorable feats in Seafair history, rebounding from a flip in an early heat to capture the winner-take-all final.
Half of it, he says, he’d love to repeat this weekend.
“It would be fun to win it again, let’s say that,” he says with his trademark laugh. “The flip, well … “
That win in 1997 came in the Pico American Dream and is the only time Evans, whose gregarious nature has long made him a popular figure in the cockpits, emerged victorious at Seafair.
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Simply being back in the cockpit Sunday in the U-57 Miss DiJulio marks something of a victory.
Evans, a native of Chelan who began driving unlimiteds in 1979, thought his career was over in 2003 after he suffered serious injuries in a flip in Detroit while piloting the U-8 Miss Llumar Window Film.
“Broke the fibula, the tibia clear in half, broke four ribs and cracked my neck, broke an elbow and got embolisms in the lung,” he says in the matter-of-fact way hydro drivers tend to discuss flip-related injuries.
Worse were infections that seeped into his leg and required doctors to reinsert all the rods and screws that were holding the limb together, and for a few scary moments had them contemplating amputation.
It took 18 months for Evans to recover. And, as Evans says, “sit out two years in this sport and you fizzle real quickly.”
So Evans pretty much resigned himself to watching from the sideline.
But as the injuries healed, the urge to drive again slowly returned. In 2009 he got an offer to drive a grand prix boat, and winning a few races brought the bug back completely.
In 2010, owner Ted Porter asked Evans to get his backup boat — an old Winston Eagle hull — in order.
“I told everybody I’d retired, but I just couldn’t resist,” he said.
He got the boat running in time for the Tri-Cities race in 2010 and last year ran the whole circuit.
Following last season, Evans and his brother, Mitch — a former unlimited driver — bought the boat from Porter. So now Mark Evans, 55, is serving as co-owner and driver.
“Nerve wracking,” he said with another laugh of his dual roles. “It’s a lot different being an owner now and really hearing more and more gremlins. I didn’t care about the equipment before when I drove for somebody else.”
Evans is hardly timid on the water.
Last week in the Tri-Cities, he pulled out every trick he could to run down Nate Brown and the U-17 Miss Red Dot to take fourth place in an early heat in an ultimately futile attempt to make the final. The boat ranks just 10th in the season points standings heading into Seafair, but Evans vows that “it’s got big potential. We’re right in the ballpark.”
He’s certainly overcome the odds before, such as the 1997 Seafair race, when his boat landed upside down after flipping in Heat 2A. He was not injured and the boat did not suffer serious damage, though it needed a quick overhaul.
Evans notes that it helped that the schedule was delayed when the Elam landed on the Miss Bud in the rerun of the heat, allowing more time for the Pico crew to fix the boat. Evans recalls he felt there was some karma there as he said it was those two boats encroaching on him that caused his flip.
“They had squeezed me off and put me on my head and they went out and reran it and that bought me some time when they crashed,” he said.
With the boat repaired, Evans cruised to a relatively uneventful win in the final, becoming the first boat to flip in an early heat and win the race.
“What I remember most is all the team members coming together and then other team members, guys from other teams, coming up and helping (fix the boat),” he said. “It was just a crazy, crazy feeling.”
And Evans says fixing the boat was the hard part. Getting back out on the water after a flip — be it Seafair in 1997 or Detroit in 2003 — is simply part of the deal.
“You just have to act like nothing happened,” he said. “If I’ve crashed somewhere, I’ve never thought about it. Some people remember that ‘that’s the spot where I crashed.’ I don’t. We’ve all got spots.
“I’ve crashed so many times in so many different vehicles, you just have to get up and go and not worry about that stuff. If you worry about crashing too much you probably shouldn’t be out there.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
|Seafair boat lineup|
|U-1 Spirit of Qatar 96||Dave Villwock||Villwock has won Seafair a record 10 times|
|U- 5 Graham Trucking||Jimmy Shane||Hoping to repeat winning performance from Tri-Cities|
|U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto||Steve David||Has won the past two Seafairs, three of past five|
|U-9 Seattle Sun Tan presents Sound Propeller Services||Jon Zimmerman||Team returns after a couple years off|
|U-11 Acura of Bellevue presents Peters and May||J.W. Myers||Coming off a tough weekend in the Tri-Cities|
|U-17 Miss Red Dot||Nate Brown||Brown back in cockpit for injured nephew Kip|
|U-18 Bucket List Racing||Kelly Stocklin||Experimental boat has yet to compete in a race|
|U-21 Albert Lee Appliance||Brian Perkins||Making the West Coast swing this year|
|U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing||J. Michael Kelly||Coming off solid second-place finish in Tri-Cities|
|U-57 Miss DiJulio||N. Mark Evans||Evans brothers running old Winston Eagle hull|
|U-88 Degree Men||Scott Liddycoat||Hull owned by Gregory family, back after three years off|
|U-99 Miss Fox Plumbing Too||Ryan Mallow||Second entry from the Leland Unlimited team|
|U-100 Miss Fox Plumbing||Greg Hopp||Main boat in the Leland Unlimited camp|
|Comments by Bob Condotta, Seattle Times|