The U-440 Bucket List Racing isn't a contender at Seafair or any other race, really. And that's just fine with its owner.
All you need to know about the U-440 unlimited hydroplane team you can learn from its name: Bucket List Racing.
Kelly Stocklin formed the team in 2012, and he didn’t start it with dreams of winning at Seafair or taking home a Gold Cup.
“I wanted to get a driver’s license for an unlimited,” Stocklin said. “I had to buy the boat to do it.”
Stocklin, who raced smaller classes of boats in the 1970s, was on the crew side of the unlimiteds for decades. He joined the Squire Shop crew in 1980, and he was part of the dominant Miss Budweiser team in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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But there was something left he wanted to accomplish.
“My wife (Sharon) said I’m not going to have you on your deathbed wishing you’d done something,” Stocklin said. “Whatever you want to do, you better do it now cause the meter’s running.”
Stocklin was 61 when he bought the G-class hydroplane and started converting it. It’s the smallest boat in the H1 Unlimited fleet. Stocklin said his boat is more the size of the unlimiteds when they ran V-12 piston engines in the 1980s. When boats upgraded to turbine power, the boats got bigger.
And if the smallest boat was a disadvantage, it also has the least-powerful engine.
“When I bought this boat, we never intended to run in finals, ever,” Stocklin said. “Just run heats and qualify and play.”
Stocklin, whose team is based in Snohomish, acknowledges the boat will never be a contender, but it makes steady improvements.
Friday, during qualifying for the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair, the U-440 had the slowest qualifying speed at 130.6733 mph, just passing the 130-mph qualifying requirement.
Stocklin doesn’t really have a sponsor for this boat, but on the cowling it says Martin Nelson @ Company, a Seattle-based investment firm. Stocklin has been paying for racing with returns on investments.
“He’s the best sponsor somebody never had,” Stocklin said.
Stocklin flipped the boat at the end of the 2015 season in San Diego, suffering injuries to his back.
Dustin Echols, a champion Grand Prix-class driver who lives in Sultan, was hired for 2016, but the boat was mostly sidelined with mechanical issues.
Last year, it finished sixth in the National High Points chase, and Echols was the rookie of the year.
Echols has definitely embraced the underdog nature of the team. He said he never really thought he’d get a shot in the unlimiteds.
“I’m just fine with being the back of the pack and making it faster because we’re learning, and I get to drive one of these things,” said Echols, pointing out there’s only 8-10 jobs available as an unlimited hydroplane driver.
Echols owns MAC Towing and Truck Repair out of Redmond with his partner Dan Wells, who is on the U-440 team. For years, they would do repair work for hydroplane teams.
Echols was watching his daughter Findley, 11, race J-stock hydroplanes Friday as Seafair added a junior hydroplane races to the schedule on Lake Washington.
“I’m more nervous watching her race than I ever am in one of these things,” Echols said, motioning to the unlimited hydroplane.
- Jimmy Shane and the U-1 Miss HomeStreet was the top qualifier at 153.846. Shane, the five-time defending national champ, is working with a new boat, which saw the water for the first time last week at the Columbia Cup in Kennewick.
- U-9 Les Schwab tires was the No. 2 qualifier with Andrew Tate, who is the circuit’s leading point scorer. Tate drove to a 150.630.
- The U-27 Wiggins Racing Team has been racing as the U-1918 Oh Boy! Oberto in Tri-Cities and Seattle. Oberto is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Oberto has been getting help from Dave Villwock, the sport’s all-time wins leader as a consultant. The team had a rough Friday. It threw a propeller blade in testing in the morning. In qualifying, there was an issue getting the boat to shut off, and it was eventually towed back to the pits.
- Eight boats qualified during Friday’s session.