Carol Lee has volunteered at Seafair since 1972. In 1977, she was part of the first all-female hydroplane crew and she became the sports first crew chief in 1980.
The U-1 Miss HomeStreet team made headlines over the offseason for hiring the first female crew chief in “modern hydroplane history.”
That was Cindy Shirley, who is from Everett, whose team was breaking in a new boat over the weekend.
But the first female crew chief in hydroplane history has been around Seafair since the early 1970s.
That would be Carol Lee, who was a member of hydroplane crews from the mid-1970s through 1990.
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Lee is in charge of all the credentials and pit passes and parking for Seafair’s 1,500 volunteers. It’s a decent job considering her trailer is one of the few air-conditioned spots at Stan Sayres Pits.
Lee, 80, has been a hydroplane fan since the races at Seafair began in 1951. In the early 1970s, she started volunteering. She’d also pack sandwiches for the hydro crews so she could get pit passes for her and her children.
She started volunteering for the crews, and in 1976 pitched to hydroplane owner Bill Wurster, who died in 2016, that there should be an all-female crew. In 1977, that became a reality with the Oh Boy! Oberto.
Lee and her crew played it up, wearing pink and purple uniforms with a big heart on the back that said Oh Boy! Oberto in company colors. They even painted the engine pink and purple, which drew some comments around the pits. Following the 1979 season, she was named Crew Person of the Year by the Unlimited Racing Commission of the American Power Boat Association.
Lee, who worked for U.S. West for 34 years, is the daughter of a mechanic and knew plenty about turning wrenches on engines.
“We did everything,” Lee said. “We were building the engines and making engine changes. Everything. It wasn’t just managing the boat.”
The all-female crew didn’t last long, breaking up after the season, but Lee stuck with it. And in 1980, she became the crew chief for Wurster’s Miss Burien Hobby Center.
From there she moved onto the Miss Madison team until 1989. That’s when she bought her own boat, a 40-foot Ocean Alexander.
“I owned, operated and maintained it myself,” said Lee, who owned the boat for 12 years.
Seafair and hydroplanes remained a family thing. Lee’s son Gary helped out on the crews. Her daughter, Kari Dahl and her grandson Kurtis Dahl work under her at Seafair.
Also working under her at Seafair is Margaret (Jackson) Bratcher, who was part of that crew in 1977. Bratcher, who has a medical background, started volunteering at Seafair in 1972.
“I thought Bill Wurster was joking when he said, ‘I’m putting together an all-girl crew. You want to be on it?’ ” she said.
Bratcher spent just one year officially on a crew. That year she started dating the crew chief, Chuck Bratcher. They got married in 1992.
The third member of the crew, Patti (Krein) Darling, ended up marrying the driver, Tom Martin.
“They did their jobs,” said Chuck Bratcher, who quit working on hydro crews after the 1977 season. “They never watched the bikinis on the beach, and they were there when they were needed to be there.
“I’d put them up against any male crew.”
Think you can drive a hydro?
One of the popular stops among the hydroplane drivers and crew during Seafair weekend is in the press room at Stan Sayres pits.
They’re not heading there for interviews; it’s because of a hydroplane simulator as they compete for best lap speeds.
And for those watching at home who want to get an idea of how to drive an unlimited hydroplane, it’ll just cost you an internet connection.
The software for the simulator is free and is at UHLhydroplanes.com. You also can find them on Facebook under the same name.
While you can run it with your keyboard, you’ll probably want to buy the steering wheel set (with pedals) used for most online driving games.
You can get on and try your hand at qualifying any time. But leagues have been forming as people get together to race.
- Jimmy Shane and the U-1 Miss HomeStreet cruised to an easy victory in Heat 1A at the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair. Shane and Cal Phipps in the U-1918 Oh Boy! Oberto were battling before the Oberto, which has been battling mechanical problems all weekend, went dead in the first lap. The U99.9 Miss Rock was second. Phipps rallied to finish third, and the U-11 Reliable Diamond Tools presents J&D’s was fourth.
- J. Michael Kelly in the U-12 Graham Trucking got the inside lane and an easy triumph in Heat 1B. Andrew Tate in the U-9 Les Schwab Tires was second with the U-21 Payne West Insurance third and the U-440 Bucket List Racing was fourth.
- Television coverage for the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair begins at 3 p.m. on KONG.