Miss Freei breaks hydroplane world speed record on Lake Washington on June 15, 2000.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 6/21/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2504

Shortly after 10:30 a.m. on June 15, 2000, on Lake Washington, Enumclaw native Russ Wicks (b. 1966) drives the Miss Freei (U-25) hydroplane to a world speed record for a propeller driven boat. The 205.494 mph. run by the U-25 over a one mile straightaway course at the north end of Lake Washington near Sand Point breaks a record set in 1962. The 38-year-old record is the longest standing speed record ever in motorsports history on land or sea. The Miss Freei, owned by Dr. Ken Muscatel, was built in 1999 at Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island.

For the June 15 record attempt, the weather conditions were near perfect. There was little or no wind and the water was smooth. The Superior Racing Team crew headed by Crew Chief Roger Newton used the Sand Point Naval Air Station for a staging area. The racing crew got off to a rocky start after the 8 a.m. launching of the U-25. During test runs the boat ran out of fuel and had to be towed in. After refueling, driver Russ Wicks went out for further testing and the rear strut broke. Repairs were made, fuel was checked, and shortly after 10:30 a.m., Wicks prepared for the world record run in the U-25 Miss Freei.

Russ Wicks Brings Her Home

Russ Wicks, the 34-year-old driver, was born in Enumclaw in south King County. He started racing motorcycles at age 10. He competed in more than 700 races on dirt and asphalt tracks. Wicks raced Motorcross, Supercross, Formula 2000, Super Vee, and recently tested Indianapolis 500 cars. But he had little experience racing across water. Wicks first entered the cockpit of the Miss Freei just two weeks before his world record attempt.

Owner Dr. Ken Muscatel, in 1999, commissioned the U-25 hydroplane built at Friday Harbor, Washington on San Juan Island. The 6,600-pound boat was 28 feet long, 14 feet wide, and included a safety canopy from an F-16 fighter jet to protect the driver. The propeller driven boat was powered by a 3,000 horsepower turbine engine taken from a military Chinook helicopter. At full speed the hydroplane threw up one ton of water in a 200-foot-long rooster tail that reached 40 feet high

Previous Record 38 Years Old

The record that Wicks tried to beat was set on April 17, 1962. On that spring day at Lake Gunterville, Alabama, Roy Duby drove the Miss U.S. to a speed of 200.419 mph. Since then at least five drivers attempted to better that speed. They failed. In 1979, on Lake Washington near Sand Point, Dean Chenoweth in the Miss Budweiser and Chip Hanauer in the Miss Squire Shop tried. Traveling at 226 mph the Miss Budweiser went airborne and crashed, throwing Dean Chenoweth from the cockpit. Fortunately he suffered only minor injuries. Russ Wicks has been the first to try since that time.

The American Power Boat Association (APBA) judges all power boat world record runs. To qualify as a world record, a boat has to run over a one mile measured course in one direction and then within 20 minutes run the same course in the opposite direction. Both runs are averaged to establish the speed.

Bring Her Home Baby!

Russ Wicks went to the south end of the course just west of Denny Park and got a running start for the attempt. He stated, "On the northbound run, I entered the speed trap [the beginning of the measured mile] at about 190 [mph] and came out the other end about 220 [mph]" (Seattle Times). The hydroplane's speed was clocked at 207.254 mph. Within a minute or two the Miss Freei looped around and started the south-bound run. Eighteen seconds later, the time it took to travel one mile, owner Ken Muscatel yelled, "That's it! Bring her home baby! It's unbelievable! We just broke a 38-year-old record" (Post-Intelligencer). The hydroplane completed the second leg at 203.735 mph. The combined average speed was 205.494 mph, beating the old record by more than 5 miles per hour.

A sopping wet Russ Wicks interviewed shortly after reaching shore stated, "They didn't have a container of Gatorade, so the guys threw me in the lake. It was wonderful. I feel so happy " (Seattle Times). He went on to say, "This is absolutely the most exciting day of my 25-year professional racing career. We brought the record home to Seattle and to Lake Washington where it belongs" (www.Freei.com 6/15/2000).

World Record runs 1939 to 2000

In 1950, near Sand Point, the Slo-mo-shun IV designed by Seattleite Ted Jones, was the first hydroplane-type boat to establish a world record for propeller driven boats. Of the seven propeller driven world-record runs from 1950 to 2000, five were made on Lake Washington. Of those five runs, three were near Sand Point and two in the East Channel near Mercer Island. Following are the world record runs of propeller driven boats and their drivers from 1939 to 2000.

  • August 1939 at 141.7440 mph at Lake Coniston, England by Sir Malcolm Campbell in the Bluebird II
  • June 26, 1950 at 160.3235 at Sand Point, Lake Washington by Stan Sayres and Ted Jones in the Slo-mo-shun IV
  • July 7, 1952 at 178.497 at East Channel, Lake Washington, by Stan Sayres and Elmer Leninschmidt in the Slo-mo-shun IV
  • Early November 1957 at 184.494 at unknown location by Art Asbury in the Miss Supertest II
  • November 30, 1957 at 187.627 at Sand Point, Lake Washington, by Jack Regas in the Hawaii Kai III
  • February 16, 1960 at 192.001 at East Channel, Lake Washington, by Bill Muncey in the Miss Thriftway
  • April 17, 1962 at 200.419 at Lake Guntersville, Alabama, by Roy Duby in the Miss U.S.
  • June 15, 2000 at 205.494 at Sand Point, Lake Washington, by Russ Wicks in the Miss Freei

In 1978 in Australia Ken Warby drove a jet-powered boat to a world record speed (for a boat of any kind) of 317.60 mph.

Their Sponsor

In May 2000, the Internet service provider Freei began sponsoring the U-25 boat racing team. In appreciation for the firm's financial support, the boat was renamed the Miss Freei. Freei, headquarted in Federal Way, Washington, began offering free, advertising-supported Internet and email services in the Seattle area in 1998. By October 1999, the company had expanded to all 50 states and in June 2000, it claimed to have 2.2 million registered users worldwide. But by October 2000, it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and its assets were purchased by NetZero.

Dr. Muscatel sold the Miss Freei, which as of July 2006 was still racing.


Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 16, 2000, p. C-3; The Seattle Times June 16, 2000, p. D-2; World Water Speed Record broken by Russ Wicks and the Miss Free," June 15, 2000 press release and "Freeinternet.com joins Hydroplane Driver Russ Wicks in Achieving the World Water Speed Record with Miss Freei," May 3, 2000 press release (www.freei.com/); "About Us, Company News," (www.freei.com/); Judy Moore, "Miss Freei.com sets world hydroplane mark of 205.494 mph," Tri-City Herald June 16, 2000, Sports Section; Fred Farley "A Brief History of the Mile Straightaway Record," American Power Boat Association (www.apba-boatracing.com); "Free ISP Closes Doors, to be Acquired by NetZero," October 9, 2000, ClickZ News website accessed June 15, 2006 (http://www.clickz.com/news/article.php/479821); Roger Yu, "Freei Cuts Staff, to Sell Assets," The Seattle Times, October 7, 2000 (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com); John Cook, "High-flying Freeinternet.com Crashes and Burns," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13, 2000 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com); Paul Scurlock, "Restored Hydros to Relive '82 Classic Race," The Detroit News, May 17, 2006.
Note: This essay was updated by Charles Hamilton on June 17, 2006.

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