PORT ANGELES — Halloween nights are ripe for surprises — but this one has been more of a treat than a trick for Port Angeles’ Vaughan Trapp.
The longtime crew chief of the TNT Racing sprint boat family, Trapp was surprised on Halloween night in 2016 when his son and sprint boat navigator Matt Denson, age 26, arrived after traveling from his home in California.
Trapp wasn’t out of his son’s life growing up — Denson would spend summers visiting his mom’s parents on the North Olympic Peninsula — and Trapp said he spent “every second I could” with his son on those visits.
“We talked fairly regularly and I always got a card on my birthday,” Denson said.
Trapp said they had a text and email relationship through Denson’s teenage years and both mentioned a certain sprint boat race as being a catalyst toward a closer adult relationship.
“It was actually sprint boat racing,” Denson said.
“He sent me a text message a few years ago saying, ‘We are racing next weekend, can you make it up?’ And I had free time and some money in the bank, so I said sure. He bought me a plane ticket and I came out to a race.”
Then Trapp asked for a big favor from a good friend.
“Our current crew chief Cory White was scheduled to take a ride,” Denson said.
“We pulled some strings and got Matt a ride, instead,” Trapp said.
These boats are prized possessions and for all their speed and power — fragile, so that ride was one White had only been waiting years to take. He later took a few laps in the Showtime No. 5 boat, so White’s been made whole in the deal.
“I rode in the TNT Jeepers Creepers with Dillon Cummings,” Denson said.
“And Dillon can drive. That first ride in the sprint boat we clipped a couple of islands and caught our own wake. It was nuts.”
And Denson made an impression with Trapp’s sprint boat family.
“When he went back home, all my friends kept asking him if he was coming back and that Halloween night, he showed up at the door,” Trapp said.
“We’ve been working on our relationship ever since.”
It’s undeniable truth that sprint boat racing is a family affair — all manner of relatives team up to work on boat crews and some even climb into the cockpit together and zip around the courses.
For Trapp and Dennis, sprint boat racing has served as a bond as they work to grow their relationship.
“It’s a really great opportunity for me and my son,” Trapp said of Denson who works as an auto technician at European Autoworks in Sequim.
“We are very similar even though we haven’t always been together,” Trapp said. “We are both mechanically savvy kind of guys who like to go fast. Gearheads with a need for speed.”
“I’ve always been around fast cars. The sprint boats are a pretty recent addition,” Denson said.
Trapp said he missed working on the boat while Sequim’s Paul Gahr had it up for sale.
“Last spring, they had a play day opportunity to test and tune boats. With the boat up for sale and not running that day, I felt a little out of place and I said ‘Maybe I should buy the Live Wire.’ Paul expressed to me that he would love it if I bought the boat, so I purchased it with the agreement that I keep the Live Wire name, the racing purple and green [color scheme] and the No. 2.”
Trapp kept Denson in the loop while thinking the deal over.
“He sent me a text message, “If I buy the Live Wire will you race with me? I thought about it for a second and then I got a text from him that said ‘I bought the Live Wire, are you racing?”
“I wrote him back ‘Yes, we are racing.’ He didn’t have to push very hard at all.
Trapp took his first lap in the driver’s seat at Wicked Racing driver Dan Morrison’s pond.
[It was] enough for me to know I wanted to drive,” he said. “Just to make sure I could do what I thought I could do. When I contemplated buying the boat I told many people this, ‘I would rather regret buying the boat than not buy it all.”
It’s been a learning experience so far, Trapp admits. But the results are getting more promising each time out on the water.
“I did more damage to the boat in one race than Paul did in about a decade,” Trapp said.
“We went to St. John and managed to flip it over. We look at that one as testing out the roll bar.
“We qualified for the very first time in the next round and I kind of felt like I won.”
The Live Wire couldn’t get through qualifying rounds at the first race at Extreme Sports Park in late July and had a day of mixed results back at St. John in late August.
“We’ve had three races and gotten better every time,” Trapp said. “I just have to continue to learn how to drive that thing.”
And Denson is learning as a navigator as well — with help from the sprint boat family.
“Before our first race the only piece of advice I got was from [Wicked Racing’s] Dan Morrison. He told me, “Once you are in the boat, if you are sitting there waving at your friends, waving at the cameras, you will screw up every time. Just focus.”
Denson said other teams also have offered help.
“Every piece of advice has been spot on,” Denson said. “Little things like the driver of the Bad Influence, he came over and said to take four deep breaths before the boat comes off the trailer [and goes in the water].
“It’s easy to get the jitters when you come off the trailer. Sometimes you have to remember to breathe. It’s a little easy to get so nervous that you forget. I’ve even felt myself using my breathing to remember corners. I’m not sure what that’s all about.”
And the opportunity to spend that time together getting the boat dialed in, traveling across the state and competing is priceless.
“It’s huge in building that relationship,” Trapp said.
Denson said racing has given them a goal to acheive together.
“I think sprint boat racing has given us something that we are working toward,” Denson said. “The focus is less on how we are doing and more on what we are doing.”
Racing has always been a family activity for Trapp, who said his mom Aileen Pool, Denson’s mom Jenelle and Denson’s adoptive father, also named Matt Denson, all have flown in to attend Saturday’s race.
“I get some strange looks when I tell people I’m from California and have two dads,” Denson joked.
“It’s going to be really cool,” Denson said of the weekend’s races. “My mom was pretty concerned about the safety factor in all this. I let her know I would show her all the safety gear and precautions that are made.”
And Trapp couldn’t overlook his sister’s role.
“Even when I was a crew chief, my sister Sheila Trapp helped with TNT Racing. She’s always been a part of it and she’s even more excited than I am. She has stepped up to the plate with her social media capabilities.”
And Trapp is glad to be back fully engaged in sprint boat racing.
“I love being part of the show, being around the sprint boat family and everybody involved,” Trapp said. “They are just such a phenomenal group of people and they treat you like they are best friends. All kinds of camaraderie and the competition is there but the friendship is true.
“It’s been that way since the very first time I got involved with it 10 years ago. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]