It's a bird, it's a plane ... Airborne, then unemployed

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The driver of an unlimited hydroplane loses his job after flipping the raceboat at nearly 200 mph

The driver of an unlimited hydroplane loses his job after flipping the raceboat at nearly 200 mph

Unlimited hydroplane racer J.W. Myers went for a wild ride at the American Power Boat Association Gold Cup in Detroit this summer — and it wound up costing him his job.

Myers, who is 35, and the U-16 Miss Elam flipped backward for 1-1/4 rotations as the 3,000-hp 30-footer soared through the air. “We left the water at about 196 mph, according to the GPS,” the Seattle driver says. “It was interesting, to say the least.”

The accident occurred July 15 during qualifying for the 97th running of the annual regatta on the Detroit River. Photographers captured the crash, which took place in front of the docks of the Detroit Yacht Club.

“It began about two seconds before the pictures,” Myers says. “It [the boat] was starting to get a little out of shape, so I gave it a little extra wing, and the sponson hit a little faster than I thought it was going to.” The 7,000-pound raceboat has a large front canard wing to adjust the boat’s attitude. At that point Myers says the engine “spiked,” revving up and pushing the bow of the hydroplane skyward.

“Then I started losing ground on it, and I thought, Here we go,” he continues. “When I’m watching the river coming at me, pointing straight down, I know I’m in trouble. I wanted to clear the nose, and I did. I was up there forever.”

The transom hit the water first on re-entry, breaking off a 6-by-3-foot section of the port aft quarter.

“I crashed that thing, and I didn’t even get wet,” Myers says. “I was out of the boat before the rescue crew got there, so I was standing on the bottom looking at a yard sale.” Myers was uninjured.

Surprisingly, the Miss Elam crew had the raceboat back together in time for the next morning’s racing.

“It broke off so clean it was relatively simple to reattach,” says Myers, who went on to win his first heat of racing and finished second overall in the Gold Cup. However, the Ellstrom Manufacturing/Miss Elam team gave Myers his walking papers the following week.

“I let him [the owner] know how I felt about it,” says Myers, who went into the Gold Cup as the points leader in the APBA hydroplane series. “I didn’t hold back any adjectives.”

Dave Villwock, former driver of the legendary unlimited hydroplane Miss Budweiser, replaced Myers. He had been waiting in the wings since the Bud team left the sport at the close of the 2004 season.

Myers now is looking for his next ride. He’s helped by the fact he has no injuries from which to recover. “I didn’t get a scratch,” he says. “The biggestinjury I had all weekend was when I bumped into a table at a restaurant.”