Perkins rains on boys’ parade

The UL-1 (left), UL-929 (center) and UL-72 punch it as they head toward the starting line of the race Saturday at Silverdale Thunder.  - Phtoto by Jesse Beals
The UL-1 (left), UL-929 (center) and UL-72 punch it as they head toward the starting line of the race Saturday at Silverdale Thunder.
— image credit: Phtoto by Jesse Beals

Silverdale will always hold a special place in Kayleigh Perkins’ heart.

Perkins, 19, made Silverdale a part of hydroplane history Sunday, as she became the first woman to win an Unlimited Lights Hydroplane Racing Association race, taking the Graham Trucking Cup at Silverdale Thunder this weekend.

“I just can’t believe I won,” Perkins said shortly after emerging from the waters of Dyes Inlet, where she landed thanks to a celebratory toss from friend Jeff Bernard. “I told him as soon as I got out, ‘I don’t want to go in the saltwater.’ It is unfortunately tradition.”

But a new tradition was established in Perkins’ historic win. Most of the UHLRA’s drivers are males between their mid-20s and 40s. For Perkins, it was nice to start something anew.

“It just shows if I can do it, anyone else can,” she said.

Don’t get Perkins wrong. From day one, she’s been treated no differently than any other driver. So as Greg Hopp lost a propeller blade after coming around the first turn of the final lap, Perkins knew victory was ensured, even if she didn’t know what happened to her closest competitor this weekend.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I have corner speed on him, he has straightaway speed on me. I didn’t know exactly what happened.”

It took Perkins, driving the UL-72 Miss Boat Electric, two tries to best Hopp thanks to Vince Xaudaro’s accident during the five-minute period of the first start. Heading into turn two, Xaudaro’s UL-929 Poulsbo PC & Technology presents Fife RV boat leapt off a rolling wave and dove nose first into the water. The hull stuffed the nose, forcing both sponsons to rip from the hull. The boat did not flip and afterward, Xaudaro, who exited the remainder of his boat under his own power, was taken to Harrison Medical Center for precautionary reasons and was released on his own accord.

His boat, however, was demolished with more than a dozen pieces of debris taken back to the dock by UHLRA divers and Kitsap County Underwater Search and Rescue divers, who had to use craft rescue flotation devices to keep the boat from sinking completely. That also allowed it to be towed back to shore.

“They’re having a hard time towing it in here and I can see why,” race announcer John Lynch told fans Sunday. “Half the boat is on the dock.”

Xaudaro wasn’t alone, as the field narrowed to seven boats by the time the second attempt at the final race came around. Xaudaro’s brother Charles was unable to go, taking water on as well. Ultimately, the 2:45 p.m. race ended up starting at about 3:35.

Perkins was a little flustered as she and Hopp were battling closely for first prior to the restart.

“I was thinking, ‘Holy crap. There’s no way I can do this twice,’” she said. “I don’t know how I lucked out.”

In the restart, it appeared to be more of the same as the pair separated themselves from the pack once again.

But that’s when Hopp lost a propeller blade on his UL-1 Festool Supply NW–Graham Trucking G.T. boat, locking up the win for Perkins, her first.

“She had the position on us,” Hopp said. “We had a big propeller on it because we knew we’d be racing on the outside.”

The propeller also was fortified more this year after Hopp had the same problem at last year’s quicksilver race. Usually, a break like that can damage more of the boat, he said.

“We’re pretty lucky,” Hopp said of making the alterations. “It doesn’t look like it broke a lot.”

Hopp was left to sit in his boat, dead in the water, and watch Perkins drive to victory. Watching was the hardest part, he said.

“First off, just the victory itself,” Hopp said. “Snatched from the jaws of victory. Then the realization, my points lead just went away. It’s just unfortunate.”

Perkins said she won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore.

“I don’t think they’ll let me get away with it next time,” she said grinning. “They race me like a guy. They don’t go easy on me because I’m a girl.”

It also marked the second consecutive year that Silverdale has seen a rookie driver take win No. 1. In addition to Perkins, Ryan Mallow won last year at quicksilver.

This year, Mallow, driving the UL-19 Millennium Digital Media, would take second after passing up Hopp. Mark Echols took third at the helm of the UL-33 Miss Graham Trucking and Calvin Phipps placed fourth in the UL-40 King & Bunny’s Appliances boat. The UL-18 Countrywide Home Loans presents, driven by Joe Turner, finished fifth.

But the big boats weren’t the only ones racing.

Defending their 8-Cylinder Stock title from last year, Bud McKay, in the E-10 Geico Namron entry, ran a tough race with Kevin Eacret in the four-boat field. Another Eacret, Austin, won the 4-cylinder class.

“This weekend was the most power I’ve ever had,” McKay, a Belfair resident, said. “We were accelerate in the turn, which we’ve never had before.”

McKay said he enjoyed the close battle that Eacret won.

“We were deck to deck the entire race,” he said. “It was exciting as hell.”

Saturday was a tough day on the boats, and McKay, having emerged from the two-day event with little substantial damage, said he considered the team lucky.

“(Saturday) there was so much carnage here,” he said. “It was so rough. So all in all, it was a good weekend.”

Debuting at quicksilver two years ago, McKay and Team Namron won the series high points title last year. He said by the Graham Trucking Cup at Silverdale Thunder this year, the team had learned a whole lot.

“Since that first year we’ve learned so much,” McKay said. “A lot of it is just us doing the work ourselves.”

But one of the biggest advances the team has made is the addition of Brandon Payne, now co-owner and co-driver.

“And Brandon builds our engines now,” McKay said. “Since he’s been the primary engine builder, we only went through two.”

With the UHLRA taking over the race this year, adding it to the Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Series, McKay said it didn’t matter who was organizing it as the fans still showed.

“It’s a good turnout,” McKay said. “That’s all I care about. There’s a race for us.”

Even with poor weather dropping sprinkles and covering the sky in clouds for the bulk of the two-day event, fans still showed, lining the shores and docks at Dyes Inlet.

“Weather, that’s the big thing,” McKay said, calling Silverdale Team Namron’s racing home. “But we still have a good turnout of people here. I love coming down here and racing. It’s great.”

In addition to saying the water Sunday was “perfect,” McKay had lots of good things to say about the race course, which was moved further from the shore this year, but without limitations to visibility.

“My favorite of course,” McKay said. “But it is one exciting sport.”

McKay also was able to collect “a few dozen” old cell phones as part of the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. McKay said fans can continue to donate old cell phones at the Kitsap Mall Information Desk through the end of the racing season in Port Angeles on Sept. 30.

In addition to the cell phone program, the team also supports multiple cancer charities. McKay’s wife, Gigi, a four-time cancer survivor, rides her Harley in various events to raise funds for groups ranging from the American Cancer Society to Wings to Wishes, which recruits pilot volunteers and raises funds to fly seriously ill children, and their families, to their “wish sites.”

“We do far more,” he said. “The racing is the smallest part we do.”

Team Namron will be back next year, but could be back bigger than before.

“Maybe next year we’ll be out here with a little bigger boat,” McKay said of possibly moving up to the UL class.

He wouldn’t be the only local either.

Bremerton’s Eric Christensen, the 2006 4-cylinder champ, sat out this year as he too has moved up to UL competition in the UL-35 Baker Equipment Presents Miss Heads Up Brewery.

For more information on the ULHRA or race, visit For more on Team Namron racing, visit

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