Sports

Childhood dream comes true for Buckley man

Driving a hydroplane is one of many things to do on Steve Bergerson’s bucket list. - Photo by Jon Osterberg
Driving a hydroplane is one of many things to do on Steve Bergerson’s bucket list.
— image credit: Photo by Jon Osterberg

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when hydroplane racing was big, Steven Bergerson never had a favorite team.

He admits as a kid he was smitten by the roar of the engines each year on Lake Washington. He’d pull a toy boat behind his bike and pretend to be one of many popular drivers. He collected newspaper clippings, team buttons and drivers’ autographs, but one team never earned his total devotion – until April 11.

Cruising the wake on Lake Washington behind the wheel of the 1960s, green and yellow, U-40 Miss Bardahl changed everything.

“It was fun,” said the Buckley resident, who was still smiling days later. “It was a blast. The rest of the day, all I could say was, ‘Wow.’

“I’ve turned into a Miss Bardahl groupie.”

The experience had other significance as well. It was one more dream Bergeson, 50, could check off his “bucket list” of things he wants to do before he “kicks the bucket.”

He’s raced dragsters and stock cars. He’s flown in a World War II vintage B-17 bomber, a Cessna and an open cockpit biplane.

“Most of the bucket list is related to speed and thrills, that knot-in-your-stomach thing for some reason. I feel pretty fortunate, I’ve got to do some neat things.”

Driving a hydroplane has been Bergerson’s dream for more than 40 years.

“Since I was a little kid I wanted to drive one. I wanted to know what it was like,” he said.

It was more than he imagined.

Last year when Bergerson turned 50, he and his wife, Denice, shut down the street of their Buckley neighborhood and hosted a party. In the planning, they connected with Miss Bardahl owner Dixon Smith, who brought the boat out for display.

The Bergersons went to Lake Chelan to watch it run and the team invited him to come to Lake Washington when they practiced in the spring.

Bergerson didn’t forget. On an overcast, windy Tuesday, the Miss Bardahl sat once again, gleaming in all her past glory, on Lake Washington, just like he remembered. The original crew from the years the team won the national championship was still in the pits.

“It’s just for fun, but it’s still like they still race,” Bergeson said. “They’re so good at their job.”

The boat, Bergeson said, was restored in Enumclaw, and it’s not like the boats of today. There’s no covered cockpit. Safety gear is sparse. It’s 30-feet long and just a tad more than 12-feet wide. It weighs 7,000 pounds and is powered by a 2,200 horsepower Rolls Royce engine.

And it moves when someone steps on the accelerator.

“As soon as we made the turn he (Smith) hits the gas and we’re going 150 mph,” Bergerson said. “It was quite a thrill. Just the history of racing on Lake Washington, it was a dream come true, especially in the Miss Bardahl.”

With Smith working the gas, Bergeson got to steer for a couple laps, hitting speeds of 100 mph, which makes him one of the elite few “Bardahl’s 100 mph Club” card-carrying members.

“This is definitely the fastest,” Bergerson said, comparing it to all his other adventures. He said being on the water intensifies the experience. “It’s definiately the most dangerous. When you’re out there you’re using all your senses. The smell of the exhaust is blowing in your face. The wind is in your face. The water is spraying up and hitting you. There’s the engine noise and you’re sitting so close you can feel the heat of the engine.

“I can’t imagine doing that with five other boats,” he said.

Making the dream even more amazing, Bergerson said, was the media showed up. Camera crews from local television stations were there, along with a photographer from a Seattle daily newspaper.

“It was just like I was a famous race boat driver,” he said. “I feel quite fortunate I was given the opportunity.”

Bergeson said he won’t forget his day in the seat of the Miss Bardahl and he’s not done checking things off his list.

The self-employed general contractor who owns Bergerson Enterprises, would like to fly in a helicopter and would enjoy taking another ride in a biplane, this time to do some stunts. He wants to give skydiving a try. A speed freak, he’d love to go to the Bonneville Salt Flats for a speed week. He also said he’d still like to bungy jump, but Denice and bad knees may have something to say about that one.

“Usually there’s a fee involved, but I’d have paid twice the price,” Bergerson said of his thrills-of-a-lifetime.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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