David Williams, the executive director of the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Washington, remembers watching his very first race at 5 years old.
"I just was amazed by the sound and color and excitement and huge rooster tails that the boats threw," he says. He filled his childhood by making model boats during the day and dreaming about them at night. At 20, Williams raced a 15-foot-long hydroplane with a Ford Pinto engine, getting up to 95 mph.
Then he went on to help build and to drive some of the best raceboats in the world. But after a few years in the top echelons of the sport, Williams quit in 1982 after four of his friends died in separate racing accidents. It wasn't until 1993 that he was compelled to return to his passion.
Williams landed in the driver's seat at Kent's fledgling Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum, increasing museum membership by hundreds, adding programs for at-risk kids, and, in September 2003, moving the entire operation from a cramped warehouse to a gleaming, airy, 11,000-square-foot space. The museum now has at least six boats on display at any given time, as well as collections of uniforms, model boats, a film library, and race memorabilia. Volunteers are welcome to lend a hand restoring the boats ― no experience necessary.
At 47, Williams is still captivated. "I have a much more sophisticated palate now for hydroplanes," he says. "The more I know about boats, the more interesting they become to me." ― VANESSA McGRADY
Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum (10-10 Tue and Thu, 10-4 Sat; $5; 5917 S. 196th St., Kent, WA; www.thunderboats.org or 206/764-9453)