MILL CREEK — Peter Olesen is squeezed into the tiny cockpit of an 11-foot racing boat that sits on a trailer in front of his Mill Creek home, fiddling with the steering wheel.
He, his father, Steve, and their mentor, Jim Tryon, are trying to put some of the finishing touches on Peter’s brand-new, built-from-scratch, 300-class Super Stock Modified Outboard hydroplane, which Peter plans to race this year.
Indeed, it’s been a remarkable 18 months for Peter, a freshman at Jackson High School, who had never been involved in any kind of boat racing prior to the fall of 2017 — and who wasn’t even supposed to be the family member involved in this particular project. But during that time span Olesen built one boat, joined a racing circuit, earned rookie-of-the-year honors and is now nearing the completion of a second boat.
And it’s all been an engineering and racing project he’s been able to share with his father.
“It’s just been great,” Peter said. “My dad and I have definitely gotten closer. It’s been a lot of fun and a great experience.”
“It’s been awesome,” Steve Olesen concurred. “Peter has a good engineering mind. For me growing up, I always loved hydroplanes and the way they worked, and bringing Peter into that has been great.”
Steve Olesen grew up in Kennewick, eagerly attending the unlimited hydroplane races held each year on the Columbia River. He took that interest with him when he moved first to Ohio and then to the Puget Sound region, and he and his family regularly attend the unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington.
But no one from the family had ever been involved in hydroplane racing at any level prior to the fall of 2017. Steve Olesen learned about a program put on by the Seattle Outboard Association and the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum that helps kids build their own hydroplanes, so he decided to check it out — with the intention of finding a project for himself and his daughter Melia.
“We’d been talking to the Hydroplane Museum for years about doing it,” Steve Olesen said. “Then I got a call in November or December by one of the guys who runs it — he had my number for some reason — and he said they had one kit left if we wanted to come down.
“We came down and we were going to do it with my daughter (who’s two years younger than Peter), and Peter tagged along,” Steve Olesen added. “My daughter wasn’t that interested, but Peter glommed onto it. Peter is very interested in the engineering of a boat and everything that goes into building it.”
So, the Olesens traveled to the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent every weekend for several months to build their hydro, a 200-class Modified Outboard that came in a ready-to-assemble kit and was designed to reach speeds near 50 mph.
Once Peter got the boat on the water, he was hooked. He became a regular on the American Power Boat Association’s Region 10 circuit, competing in events throughout Washington and Oregon, racing four times a weekend on courses that varied in shape (ovals and different types of triangles) and length (usually around a mile). The highlight was when he finished seventh at nationals last July on Moses Lake. In January he was named the APBA’s 2018 Modified Outboard Rookie of the Year.
“It was very exciting,” Peter said about racing his boat. “You just have to be fearless when driving if you want to be competitive. It’s very exciting and a lot of fun.”
It was a little less fun for his father.
“I like the building, I’m a little less excited when he’s driving,” Steve Olesen said. “I’m used to sports where I can yell at them from the sidelines if they do something right or wrong. With hydros, he’s out there by himself competing against 10 adults and I can’t say anything he’s going to hear. It’s more nerve-wracking than I thought.”
But not so nerve-wracking that it prevented them from taking the next step. About halfway through last season the Olesens made the decision to up their game for 2019 — as well as have a bigger boat for Peter, who had grown to 6-foot-2 and was getting too big for the 8 1/2-foot 200-class hydro. So they decided to build a 300-class boat from scratch. They began collecting parts last summer, acquiring pieces made of lighter composite materials, in contrast to the mostly wood 200-class boat. They started the building process in December, receiving guidance from Tryon, an experienced hydro racer, as well as veteran boat builders Don and Dave Anderson.
The new boat is not just bigger — going from 8 1/2 feet to 11 feet — it also has a more powerful engine, going from a 10-horsepower Evinrude motor to a 33-horsepower Yamato motor. The new boat is expected to be capable of reaching speeds as fast as 60 mph, with the possibility of increasing to 75 mph in the future.
“It’s been very interesting,” Peter said about building the new boat. “Building the first boat from a kit gave us a lot of knowledge, so building from scratch was a little easier. We’ve gotten a lot of help from Don and Jim.”
“It’s been a learning experience, we’ve been using a lot of epoxy,” Steve Olesen added with a laugh. “Wood is a lot more forgiving, if you screw up, you can just sand it down and rearrange it. With composite you can’t do that.”
The Olesens were hoping to get the boat on the water for testing early this week. If all goes well, they’ll race the new boat for the first time this weekend at the Armed Forces Regatta on Kitsap Lake — which Peter Olesen hopes is just the next step in what will be a long and successful hydroplane-racing career.
“I definitely want to keep doing it, going up the classes,” Peter Olesen said. “Hopefully I’ll make it to unlimited.”
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