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Keeping Pace

Wham oversees engine design

You just can’t keep Earl Wham down. The former driver of the Atlas Van Lines Unlimited hydroplane and motor builder to Ed Sneva and others had a very special guest in his shops this week. A motor design that could lead to automobile powerplants in the big boats came to Wham’s Spokane Valley shop to the delight of the 80-year icon.


Doug Pace

The Spokesman-Review

Unlimited hydroplane racing made an appearance in the Spokane Valley this week. While few knew the sport was in town, motor builder, hydroplane driver and racing icon Earl Wham was in the middle of it all like a grand conductor.

An entire hydroplane was not present in the Valley, but an innovative power plant for 1996 champion boat owner Fred Leland’s U-100 was at Wham’s shop for motor dyno testing. The automobile-based design is a 526 cubic-inch Dodge engine with fuel injection systems. If all goes well, two more engines will be joined in unison with the prototype and the trio will power Leland’s boat within the next year, Wham said.

“All three of them together will make 6,000 horsepower and Fred knew I was the only one around with a dyno capable of testing this engine, so out they came from Seattle to give it a whirl,” he said.

Leland’s engineer, Tim Shaddick, worked with Wham and a team via Internet to conduct the test that ran most of the week. Wham provided the shop space but was merely present to oversee the work and not actually doing any design modifications.

“(The idea) is all Tim’s and I was just supervising,” Wham said. “I allowed them to use the dyno because I knew it could handle something this big and complex. It took a lot of engineering and love of the (hydroplane) game to try and do something like they did this week. If it all works out, I think it won’t be too long and automobile engines will be powering the big boats.”

Gaining fan interest from drag racing and circle track enthusiasts to follow hydroplane racing is one reason to continue trying to perfect automobile engines powering the unlimited boats, Wham said.

“They’re really trying to tap into the NASCAR and NHRA fans and get more people interested in boat racing, I feel,” the 80-year-old said. “You can get a lot more sponsors interested and just like auto racing, you’d see the different manufacturers battling to get their engines into hydroplane racing if more people showed an interest. If this thing ever hits the water, you can bet I’ll be sure to be around to see it.”

It’s been quite a week for Wham.

The former driver of the famed Atlas Van Lines hydroplane and world- record holder for boat speed was present to watch his protégée, Jeff Bird, run second in the season opener for the Northwest Modified Series at Stateline Speedway while in Kalispell, Mont. A Wham motor underneath the hood of Mark Owens’ late model set fast time and won the 100-lap season-opening event at Montana Raceway Park.

“Mark called me this week and told me how good the engine was in his car, and I reminded him it was two years old and the warranty had run out,” Wham said. “The neat part was, that is a back-up motor he put into his back-up race car and then went out there and did all the work, and I’m just happy to have a small part in it all.”

While doing more supervising then actual wrench turning, Wham said that Owens and Bird meeting success and the chance to dabble in the hydroplane ranks is a good lift for his ailing spirits.

“I’m 80 years old and have been battling a heart condition, but even with those things going against me I like to keep my hands in it as much as possible,” Wham said.


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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