We had a chance to sit down and talk adrenaline with the Degree Men H1 driver, Scott Liddycoat. Scott is an expert when it comes to hydroplane driving, and we wanted to ge this side of the story. What’s it like sitting in the cockpit of a hydroplane that’s going nearly 200 mph? Read below to find out.
How did you get started going fast on the water?
I got started when I was 18, driving our family’s limited inboard hydroplane, and I’ve been driving ever since. Anybody who needed a driver, I would always be up for it. I’ve driven about 30 different boats now – pretty much every inboard motor class there is. Then, last year, I heard there was an opportunity to drive an unlimited, so I put in my resume, and got picked for the job. It went real well last year. 2011 was a great season. I got hooked up with Matt part way through the season, and we talked about what he was trying to do. He started doing the radios for me in the unlimited, and the opportunity came along, the Degree deal came along, and I was like, “hell yeah.” So, the rest is kind of history, but it’s something I’ve done basically my whole life.
What’s the difference between a hydroplane and, well, did you just hop in a hydroplane?
Actually, I did! I messed with radio control boats for awhile, and my dad was always racing. So, one year I just said, “Hey, if I join the american power boat association will you let me drive?” And he said, “Well, we’ll see. Go in and get your physical.” Then, we were driving to a race one weekend and he looked over and said, “You wanna drive?” And that was it. He never got back in a boat. I started in a fairly big class, called the 5 liter inboard hyrdoplane. I guess they do like 115 mph, and that was like, my first real inboard boat race. Yeah I started off, and went pretty big right away. Ever since then, the limited hydroplanes, I still drive them today, still do them on weekends when we’re not running the unlimited. They are mostly automotive powered boats, and probably do up to 140 mph in the biggest classes. There are classes where you can start driving at 14, and them the next step is unlimited. Unlimited is the biggest there is: the fastest, most powerful boats out there. It’s kinda where everyone wants to end up, but only a select few get to do it. So, I’m pretty honored to get this opportunity. It’s pretty awesome.
These unlimiteds are the fastest things on water. Is that true? There’s nothing on earth that can beat an unlimited on the lake? Or ocean? Do you guys do saltwater?
Yeah, we do races in Doha, Qatar, which is saltwater, and we also race in Mission Bay San Diego in saltwater. There are drag boats that go a little bit faster than unlimiteds, but they only go for a quarter of a mile. We race basically the same race course as NASCAR is running on, and basically the same average speeds. I mean, we’re qualifying at mid 150s, so we’re going over 200 at the end of the straightaways, and then we just turn the wheel. And we do 3.5 G’s through the corner, then you go through the back straightaways and then you do it all over again. We run 5 lap heats, and we have fly-in starts which is unique. Most drag racers just sit there, stop and then go. Our starts are all timed so, you get to start in line, you want to hit that right at zero. Then the race is on from there.
You say you do 3.5 G’s, what exactly does that feel like on your face, on your body, on your ability to control the boat?
Actually, it’s not as bad as you’d think. You feel it; everything feels heavy, but the seats that we’re using – we’re using 6 point harnesses – and HANS devices, and everything that they’re running in NASCAR. So, with all the safety gear in the seats, you’re able to control the boat pretty well. One thing about a turbine engine versus automotive-powered is the turbines have a little bit of a lag time. In the cockpit, we have a gas pedal on the right foot, just like a car. On the left, you have two pedals that control a wing in the front between the sponsons called a canard. There’s a pedal that makes the wing go up, which makes the boat come back down on the water, and there’s a pedal that makes the wing drop, which brings the nose of the boat up. So basically, because of the lag time, you don’t ever really want to take your foot off the gas. You basically drive it to the floor and do all the controlling with your left foot.
So your foot is on the gas the entire race?
Yes. And they’ll let me know that too because we have onboard computer systems in the boat and there is a sensor on the gas pedal. If I’m not on the floor, the team will let me know when I come back into the dock.
In normal life, say on the highway, going 100% pedal-to-the-metal is crazy. How do you manage to keep control of a boat while, at the same time, giving it everything you got?
That’s where experience comes in handy. A lot of it is feel. Unexpected circumstances happen. The “rooster tails” are huge. If somebody cuts you off and you get up in a “rooster tail,” everything changes and there’s a good chance you’re going to end up upside down and going backwards. But, you know, it’s all feel. Like, when we get to a corner, you’re wide open and as soon as you turn the wheel you’re on the pedal to bring the nose up because you’re slowing down a little bit in the turn, and then, as you get going down the straight away, you start using the other wing to keep the boat on the water. So it’s a lot of feel, and i that’s where guess if you’re going to be a natural, that’s where it helps to be a natural.
Are these boats on the water or are they above the water? If they’re above the water, how far above the water are they?
Ideally we’re on what’s called a 3-point hydroplane. It’s called that because there are 2 sponsons on the front that stick out, and a propeller in the back. If everything’s perfect, about 6 inches of the sponsons touch the water with the propeller also in the water.
Crashes can be pretty devastating in your sport. Have you been in anything that’s made you think twice about driving a hydroplane?
I’ve been in a couple crashes. I think I’ve had 3 altogether throughout my career. I mean crashes worry you after the fact. You think about it, “I could have got it a lot of worse there,” or whatever. I’ve had a couple injuries here and there, but nothing major. When you’re grass roots racing, the safety isn’t as high, because budgets are limited. When you’re going 200 mph, safety is pretty important. In unlimited, we don’t really spare any expenses. Most of the guys are walking away from serious crashes. Last year we had a bad wreck in Madison, Indiana, where one boat drove right up over the top of the other one and both drivers walked away. Safety equipment has come a long way.
Say, hypothetically you lose control. Are your eyes open or closed?
Oh, I’m watching the whole time because, a lot of the time, you might land it up the right way!
What is it about the water? Do you find that when you’re on the road, in a car, you’re a speed demon?
Pretty much. I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie, if you want to say that. I raced BMX bikes all the time, you know, did all that stuff. When I’m in a car, my wife always says, “It’s like you’re always in a race. You always pick the lane that’s going the fastest.” Anything I do, I don’t sit still very long.
Are you a control freak?
Not really, no. It’s funny, my wife is the control freak.
Your first race is coming up here in early July. What are your goals for this year? What are you looking forward to?
Actually, my goals are pretty high, and I know the team is on the same page. I won my last race last year, and it happened to be the world championships, which was great. I was the rookie of the year last year as well, but we were always a little bit off. Last year, we were always top 3 in qualifying, but we were never 1. So, one goal is I want to be a number 1 qualifier somewhere, and I want to win a couple of final qualifying heats.
What does being a number 1 qualifier get you exactly?
Well, it doesn’t get you much, but you get to brag. You get to show everybody you showed up. Seemed like every time last year we’d go up and put down a pretty good time but then somebody would beat it by like 2 mph. This year, I want to be the guy everybody’s pissed off at at the end of Friday. Usually there’s some pretty sweet trophies.
How many competitors are there on the circuit?
It depends on the races. The west coast swing usually gets a couple extra racers, because there a lot of local boats out there, but we’re talking 12 to 14 boats at each event.
So this is the top of the game? You can’t get any higher when it comes to racing on the water?
Yeah, that’s it. It’s pretty much the NASCAR of boat racing. We won the UIM world championships last year in Doha, Qatar, and the banquet for that is in Monaco. It was funny because we were the big deal. There were all these European racers – they’re big into their watersports too – but we were the biggest, fastest boat. They gave away 120 awards, and it was something like 14 different countries represented. We were the biggest, fastest class there. It was pretty cool.
There are more astronauts than H1 pilots!
There probably are. Everybody wants to drive hydroplanes. I always dreamed about it. Growing up racing, I always had idols and they were always unlimited drivers. Now, being one, it’s pretty friggin’ cool.
Be sure to check out the rest of our interviews with the H1 team:
o USA Racing H1 Interview With Matt Gregory – Crew Chief
o USA Racing H1 Interview With Debbie Gregory – Owner
o USA Racing H1 Interview With Adam Gregory - Director of Operations