Patrick Robinson
Brian James, Maile Waiau, and Anthony Nolen, all 2nd year students at SSCC in their Heavy Diesel and Automotive program have been helping to repair and get ready the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing in time for the Seafair race Aug. 2-4. They have also been working on the truck that hauls the boat across the nation.

SLIDESHOW: SSCC instructor and students are part of the Beacon Plumbing Hydroplane team

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South Seattle Community College Heavy Diesel and Automotive Instructor Doug Clapper and select students from the college have been working very slowly on something very fast.

The U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing, set to race in the Seafair Albert Lee Cup race Aug. 2-4 has needed extra work following an end over end flip in a race in Tri-Cities July 28.

The U-37 is owned by legendary former driver Billy Schumacher who won back to back hydroplane championships (1967-1968). The SSCC students have been coming to Schumacher's workshop in Ballard to gain valuable hands on experience by working on the speed machine. Clapper who is also the team driver, taking the boat across the nation its eight US races is close to Bill Cahill – owner of Beacon Plumbing, the boat's primary sponsor. The arrangement with the students came about when Cahill needed some work done on the truck and asked Clapper if he and his students could help.

“We started a relationship with Schumacher and the race team’s truck,” Clapper explained. “And then the next thing, the boat was up here.”

Now, in the second year of the relationship, Clapper and his students have continued to work on the truck and the boat.

The work allows the students to gain experience on diesel-trucks and be part of the team that works on one of the fastest machines in the world.

2nd year student Brian James hopes to run a shop or own one of his own following his graduation this year.

Maile Waiau, also a 2nd year student won't be pursuing diesel engines or hydroplanes, instead aiming at a career in nursing. "I'm helping out because I like to do mechanical work on the side. I've been interested in hydroplanes for more than 13 years," she said.

Anthony Nolen, graduating this year, is hoping for a career involving alternative energy vehicles. But that means getting a good grounding in conventional (and in the case of the hydroplane) unconventional propulsion first.

"It's a quickly evolving field and this experience gives you a big appreciation for all the hard work that goes into one of these machines. It's quite fascinating that the layman thinks you just throw a propeller on the boat and make it go real fast. But there are all kinds of gear ratios and different angles of props. Then you strap a jet engine to it and basically fly across the water."

The U-37's crew chief, Jeff Weiding, who has been with the team the past six seasons oversees the boat for its 8 US races and races in the middle east and "hopefully one in China." He's glad to have the students on hand to get the boat ready.

“The only thing that is unlimited about this sport is the work and it’s just been a huge help,” Weiding said of the SSCC students. “These guys are hands-on and they are very careful. If they have any questions, they are not afraid to ask.”

While the mechanics of a hydroplane (which involve custom gear boxes and a jet engine and a semi-truck are obviously quite different, many of the principals that the students learned in the diesel classroom are applied to their work on the hydro.

“This group right here is coming from working on heavy diesel trucks which are totally different,” Weiding explained. “(With hydroplanes) you are working on carbon fibers and fiber glass. The mechanical skills are the same but you have to adapt to this type of work. It’s been really fun to watch them learn and grow.”

The working relationship that has developed between the college, Schumacher racing, and Beacon Plumbing has been a win-win-win for all parties involved.

“He (Schumacher) trusts the students and it’s a great opportunity for them to learn on something live – not just the training aides at school,” Clapper said. “It’s been great for the students to see a boat that they worked on going over 200-miles-per-hour and to see the truck that they worked on to get the boat to the races.”

The driver of the Miss Beacon Plumbing is J. Michael Kelly started racing at the age of seven, was named the H1 Unlimited Rookie of the Year (2004) and has also raced internationally.

His experience has given him nerves of steel but he did have some moments of concern when he flipped. "I have fear. Basically on take off but when I wrecked that was the first time I thought that I might actually get hurt. Luckily I didn't. The safety cell really did it's job." He estimates at the time of the flip he was traveling at 190 miles per hour, near the fastest he's gone in the boat.

Kelly has grown up in boat racing. "I'm actually third generation boat racing," he explained but going fast is not what he considers the best part of the experience. "The great family atmosphere, and for me growing up it kept me out of trouble and gave me something to look forward to. Now that I'm in the unlimiteds (his 10th year) I get to see different parts of the world that I would never been able to see. But meeting people and the rush of going 200 miles an hour is pretty cool. It never gets boring."

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