By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The 18-year-old navigator and Sequim High School senior was about to make her first qualifying run at Saturday’s American Sprint Boat Racing National Finals before thousands of spectators at the Extreme Sports Park in west Port Angeles.
Moments later, Taylor and her father, driver Paul Gahr Jr., bolted onto the course in their TNT Racing Live Wire boat in an aggressive, dizzying run.
But like several others in their 700-horsepower classification, the Gahrs missed a late turn and did not finish their first attempt.
“I just made a rare mistake,” said Paul Gahr, whose father-daughter team opened the day 10 points behind Pasco’s Doug Hendrickson and Nicole Muller of the Port Angeles-based Wicked Racing team for the series points lead.
“The channel came up too quick on me. I knew the rotation. I just needed to go down one more channel, but that’s racing.”
The Gahrs regrouped and finished the day in third place behind five-time series champion Hendrickson and runners-up Scott Saxton and Frank Farrand of Surrey, B.C.
The top three were separated by just six-tenths of a second in the final rotation.
Other winners from Saturday were Dennis Hughes (Spokane) and Matia Haskey (Aberdeen) in the 600-horsepower Super Modified class, and Jerimy Brewer and Pressley Lollar of Tacoma in the 1,000-horsepower Super Boats.
Event spokesman Doc Reiss said Brewer’s 38.708-second time in the last rotation was the equivalent of 96 mph.
“This was a real fast rotation,” Reiss said.
A crowd of about 7,000 roared early and often as the teams found their rhythms and shaved seconds off their times.
Another Sequim team, driver Dillon Cummings and navigator Teri Cummings of TNT Racing, finished third in Super Modifieds with a brand-new engine.
The Cummings used their first two runs to break in the motor.
“You could throw a line out the back of the boat and do a little trolling at this speed,” the public address announcer quipped as the Cummingses’ No. 99 Jeepers Creepers boat turned a 78.499-second opening lap.
The Cummingses blew the motor at a race in St. John earlier this year, in which they clipped an island, spun around, twisted upside-down and went through a fence.
They used an engine from a small pickup truck to finish that race and had loftier goals Saturday.
“If everything goes right, we’ll definitely podium,” Teri Cummings correctly predicted between qualifying runs.
Extreme Sports Park co-owner and Wicked Racing driver Dan Morrison sat out the race because he is modifying his boat. He figures to be a factor in 2014 with a souped-up engine.
The all-day event featured some crowd-pleasing rollovers.
It began with the singing of the Canadian and American national anthems by the Sequim High School choir, which sold programs to raise money for a trip to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall in March.
The anthems were followed by a tribute to 9/11 victims and heroes, and a flyover by a Coast Guard helicopter from the Port Angeles air station.
Later in the day, Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith reported no major incidents at the Extreme Sports Park.
“We have an interagency presence,” he said.
“We think the organizers did a great job of planning and organizing and taking advantage of information from past events.”
The Extreme Sports Park has hosted sprint boat racing for the past three years.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.