Running with the Big Cats

| April 07, 2005

Robert Wallace has been hauling Tom Abrams’ race boats for 25 years.

Scarecrow likes to keep ‘em guessing.

“When you haul some of the biggest racing powerboats in the world, drivers all over America just have to talk to you,” says Kevin Kahl, whose handle is Scarecrow. “But ever since we turned the boat around on the trailer we’ve been fooling a lot of truckers.”

Recently the No. 12 Flowmaster team repositioned its big Super Cat race boat on its 53-foot trailer so that the bow is at the rear of the trailer and the big engines are at the front, putting them much closer to the workshop built onto the chassis behind the sleeper of the 1994 Kenworth T600 with a Detroit 470. Work on the engines is now extremely efficient, says Kahl.

“When I’m out there driving down the highway, the question I get most from guys out there in the big rigs is ‘Hey, how’d you back that thing on the trailer?’ We have a lot of fun with that.”

American Power Boat Association offshore racing Super Cat boats, as a group the biggest, most powerful racing boats in the world, don’t go into the water like your bass boat when it’s behind a pickup truck. They’re so big that cranes are needed at race venues to get them in and out of the water using special linkages built into the hull. And that might happen three, four or five times in the days leading up to the race, meaning a lot of tight maneuvering and pinpoint backing for the drivers of the big tractors that haul some of the premier boats in this sport.

Once the boats are in the water, spectators can watch some of the most spine-tingling excitement in the world of racing. The current trend in offshore races, such as the recent APBA Offshore event in Marathon, in the heart of the Florida Keys, is to race closer to shore in hopes of attracting racing fans like those that flock to NASCAR events.

Watch these 40-foot, closed-canopy monsters that can weigh 9,000 pounds and use twin 750 horsepower engines, and you’ll see the rough and tumble, the bumping, the tension, the breath-holding passing maneuvers and thrilling strategic battles at 140 miles an hour on water that pounds and bounces the boats.

The biggest of the boats commonly use Class 8 tractors to haul them. The smaller boats rely more on big pickups with powerful diesels and duallies.

While turning the Flowmaster around didn’t make much difference to the boat’s hauling characteristics (“She’s a pretty easy load,” Kahl says.), it has posed a few new challenges for Kahl, a former trucker who drove OTR for more than a million miles over 10 years, the last three of them hauling steel for a New York company. He left the road to build custom motorcycles in Clearwater, Fla.

“Used to be I could see the boat clearly when I was rolling,” says Kahl. “Now I can see nothing of it except a corner of the stern. I can’t see a thing down the side of the boat. When we turned the boat around we also raised the trailer mounting 6 inches so she’d go over guard rails or concrete retaining walls if we got too close in turns of parking lots. And she’s now also high enough that cars that come too close would hit the trailer and not the boat.”

Kahl says the team is also considering making a change that others in the sport have already done – changing from a tractor to an RV. “Why pay taxes when we’re not hauling freight?” he says. “There’s no revenue generated by the truck and the trailer. And as an RV we can travel more freely, without a load of permits and restrictions.”

Robert Wallace hauls race boats with a truly classic working truck – a 1986 long-nose Peterbilt 359 with a 425 horsepower 3406 Caterpillar engine, a 372-inch wheelbase and a 180-inch sleeper. Wallace has been driving big rigs for 25 years and hauling race boats for Reliable Carriers of Canton, Mich., for about as long. These days he’s special events driver for the company, and his rig sports a transmission only a true driver could love, what Wallace calls “a six and a four,” 24 gears, two gear shifts – one for high, one for low – and a full clutch. A Reliable Carriers’ Kenworth W900 also goes along to the boat races pulling a state-of-the-art workshop on wheels in a 53-foot van.

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