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Outboard Racing Engine

The story of my speed record attempt with my
Harrison engine…..By Peter T. Crowley

I was by no means an expert on this engine or any other engine… Kay Harrison and Don Nichols were the creators of this successful engine. This is the story of just one of those engines.

After twenty years of Stock Outboard racing, I started racing one of Mike Schmidt’s 250cc Hydroplanes at the local New England races. The boat was built by George Andrews and was powered by an old FA Konig engine. For a few years in the early 1980’s, I would race my Stock equipment and Mikes 250cc Hydro. I decided to retire from racing after the 1984 season due to rule changes in the Stock Outboard category that made my arsenal of racing equipment obsolete. During the start of the 1987 season, I once again wanted to race. This time my plan was to race the PRO-250cc Hydroplane class, but this time with my own equipment. My time with Mike had taught me a lot about PRO racing and eliminated much of the "mystery" about these exotic engines. The successful boat at that time was a Pugh design, built by Gary Pugh in Knoxville, TN. These boats were fast, handled very well and were safe to run…the perfect combination. I called Gary to see if he knew of any good used boats for sale. He told me that Kay Harrison had an entire 250cc Hydroplane outfit for sale. When I called Kay to inquire about the rig, I discovered that instead of a Yamato engine (what I had expected), he said that the motor on the boat was one that he had made himself! Well, I wasn’t born yesterday and I was skeptical that anyone could build their own motor and be competitive in the methanol fueled, thirteen thousand RPM, anything goes PRO category! So I got the details of the outfit…and called Mike Schmidt for advice. Mike of course knew of these Harrison engines. He told me that they were very competitive and not just anyone could get hold of one. What did I say earlier about not being born yesterday? My tune quickly changed from that of skeptic to one of disciple. As advertised, the boat and motor were immaculate. Soon I was on my way home with my first PRO equipment and my second racing career was launched.

I now had my Harrison engine and my own Pugh boat. I became acquainted with the maintenance aspects of this motor and raced it without fiddling with it. With this rig I was instantly competitive with Mike, although he had more experience and generally won. Later in the season I went to my first U.S.Title Series race in Fulton, NY. This was incredible. The "best of the best" traveled this PRO circuit and this was my first attempt at running with them. In the Stock Outboard category, for many years I went to all of the big races, including the Stock Outboard National Championships and could run with anyone. This background provided me with a certain degree of confidence but there was still a little apprehension. I managed a fifth place finish out of two dozen entries which was a surprise to many.

Later on, I was to accomplish a feat that is still one of my career highlights. At the fall APBA Region meeting in late October of 1987, I learned that there was to be a special event in Moorehaven, Florida for straightaway speed trials over a kilometer course. The event was to be run on December 5th. After some discussions on the subject, I established a plan of action. The 250cc Hydroplane class record was up to 98 MPH, so I didn’t feel that I could approach that record. However the PRO-250cc Runabout record was only at 78 MPH and it was many years old. I thought that if I could apply my previous Stock runabout experience to a PRO runabout and use my Harrison engine from my hydroplane, perhaps I would have a chance at breaking the PRO 250cc Runabout record. My brother donated an old C Stock Runabout that I had designed and built for him in 1976. After some careful consideration, I was able to redesign that boat into a laydown 250cc Runabout. A new concept in runabout design, this new boat offered a more streamlined aerodynamic package. The problem that I encountered was the time frame. I had less that five weeks to complete the task, test the performance and drive to Florida. The work was accomplished with considerable effort. The boat was complete in late November. We took the boat up to Lake Winnesquam in New Hampshire to try it out. After one pass we called it quits. The boat seemed to be riding clean, the engine was operating in its power band and I only had one propeller to try anyway!
HARRISON PRO-250cc Racing Outboard   Moorehaven, FL  December 5, 1987
The Kilos were something entirely new to me. The drivers meeting took place in the early morning darkness. The importance of this was to take advantage of the smooth water conditions afforded early in the day. There were boats from nearly every category of racing (Stock, Modified,  PRO, OPC outboards as well as several inboard classes). To my surprise, Mitch Meyer was down from New York with his PRO 250cc Runabout. He was the PRO National Champion and competition record holder in the class. His first attempt ended when he had difficulty turning the boat around in the narrow confines of the canal. This was a lesson for me, I was sure to encounter the same problem. I had to be careful. Eventually it was my turn to go. I had to Peter Crowley prepares for a RECORD attempt in 1987find some volunteers to help start my engine and launch the boat. I too would have trouble turning the boat around without the normal turn fins, taken off the boat to improve speed. It was necessary to throttle back and lean in order to turn the boat. Lining up the boat with the far end of the course at the beginning of the run was critical, because after I had slid back under the cowl- feet first, I was unable to correct the course of the boat or steer it at all! After lining up the boat and sliding into position, on my stomach, head first and supported by my elbows, I began the run by opening the throttles all the way open. This was done with the safety throttle next to my helmet. At this stage, the boat was hopping a little until the engine RPMs and speed increased. The first air switch was employed which opened the power ports, changing the exhaust port timing and allowing the engine to rev even more. Now the boat accelerated through the mild hop, through the slight bounce and on to a smooth glide. When the engine accelerated up to the right RPM, the second air switch was employed which shortened the expansion chambers, adding even more RPMs and more speed. In the glide stage, I could hear the high pitched whine of the engine, as well as the vibration inside the boat. Soon the glide turned into the "wash board" rumbling sound as the boat breaks contact with the water and just skips over the wave tops. Finally, just prior to reaching the first buoy (a driver reference which located the beginning of the kilometer course), and except for the engine noise, the noise within the boat stopped altogether. The boat had lifted entirely out of the water and was supported by a thin layer of compressed air. The "wash board" sound and vibration were gone...I went the entire kilometer balanced on disaster and holding my breath.  The second reference buoy flashed past and I slowed down in reverse order...pipes, exhaust PRO 250cc Runaboutports and throttle. Now was the time that required every single skill that I had acquired in my racing career, and this was extremely critical….to safely turn this boat around in the canal! It was, without a and throttle. Now was the time that required every single skill that I had acquired in my racing career, and this was extremely critical….to safely turn this boat around in the canal!  It was, without a doubt, one of the most difficult racing maneuvers that I have ever had to do. My record attempt was on the line. A mistake here and the run was over. I had to slow down as slow as possible, but without loading up the engine or dropping the engine speed down to where it would stall. At the same time, I had to slide out from under the cowl and kneel were my shoulders had been. Very carefully I had to lean over, turn the steering wheel and watch the engine speed while I turned the boat around and lined up for the return run. With the turn around complete, I encountered another problem. The direction of this return run was into a slight breeze. The direction was not directly towards me however. The air was moving left to right ahead of me, at a 10 to15 degree angle towards me. I knew that the air movement would cause my boat to track toward the right, so I deliberately aimed the boat at the official’s stand located on the left side of the canal at the end. This was my fastest of the two runs. Over 86 MPH. My calculated guess on how far my boat would drift to the right during the run was a little conservative. Just after the end of the run I passed about ten feet from a little dock sticking out from the right side of the canal. At the end of the back up run, the officials quickly displayed a white flag signifying that I had broken the class record and I made my way back to the pit area. Bill Fales had warned me prior to making the trip to Florida to quit if I did set a record. He had observed in his many years of racing, that many people had been injured or killed trying to get a little more speed after they had already accomplished their goal.

Back on the bank of the canal, my boat safely next to the trailer on a pair of stands, a crowd started to gather. Many of the experienced PRO drivers had left the pit area to get a view of my run……I was after all, a Stock Outboard driver with a strange (innovative) new boat and they didn’t want to miss seeing what would happen. That was why I had difficulty finding help to get started! The gathering crowds were these people returning from watching my run. Their attitude having changed from skepticism to enthusiasm. Everyone was crowding around the pit manager who had a radio and was in contact with the officials. We were waiting for the official word…. Finally I heard the radio crackle "…250ccRunabout….a new record of 84.866 MPH….". Their enthusiasm exploded, they shook my hand and congratulated my 6-MPH blasting of the record! I remember Dan Kirts shaking my hand…and that meant a lot to me. Dan Kirts was one of the most successful boat racers in history…..a living legend. We had never met before but I had heard of his feats back when I was racing in the stock classes. His congratulation was a gesture of true sportsmanship and for me, a symbol of my acceptance in the PRO category. Dan also set a record that day in PRO 500cc Hydroplane at over 121 MPH. My record was a "dream come true" for this man who used to dream of performing feats like this when I was young. We don’t all realize the dreams of our youth. I feel fortunate to have realized several of these old "day dreams". By the way, the name I put on this boat before leaving for Florida was PIPE DREAMS. Both definitions, of the phrase and of each word are an appropriate name.






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