UNITY FLAGSTAFF REPORTING
Of the many National Champions crowned at this year’s Stock / MOD Nationals in Wakefield Michigan, there was one championship which stood out as extra special. It was the 200cc Hydro title won by the understated Amy Sweeney from Delaware Ohio.
Racing the 9-S, Amy took on a solid cast of the best hydroplane drivers in the country to capture her first APBA Short Course title in fifteen years of trying. And the long wait made the victory that much sweeter.
After marrying long time D Stock Hydro stalwart and APBA Hall of Champions driver Jim Sweeney in 1994, Amy first earned her outboard racing chops working in the pits. But soon the competitive juices began to flow through the veins of this former softball and basketball player and the urge to compete came bubbling to the surface. She then started her own racing career in 1997 with Husband Jim acting as Crew Chief and mechanic. Amy’s pits were packed with talent as well as racing knowledge but also with pressure. When asked about her first years in the cockpit Amy points to her husband as the one who always kept her in the game. “Racing with Jim could be very demanding sometimes” Amy said, “he was a perfectionist and was used to winning. The pressure added to the stress of racing but it made me a better driver in a shorter amount of time. With Jim as crew chief I could always count on the boat being highly competitive, even on the national level”.
Amy quickly became a force on the APBA circuit competing in A-Stock Hydro, 200 MOD Hydro and A-Stock Runabout and was soon winning races all over the Midwest and beyond. What many race fans as well as her competitors noticed however, was not her natural talent behind the wheel but her astonishing sense of sportsmanship. After a tough loss Amy was always the first one with her hand out congratulating her competition and was always willing to lend a hand in the pits. She also became known, through the years, as the one to give a new driver advice and encouragement. Her competition on the other hand, soon learned that beneath the humble, laid back attitude hid a burning competitive desire which usually led her directly to the winners circle. Over the next several years the weekend wins kept on piling up but it was the big enchilada, the national short coarse title, which eluded this otherwise elite hydroplane pilot. After placing in the top three numerous times and knocking on the door with second place finishes at Nationals it seemed to the diminutive driver that the climb to the top of the podium would never materialize.
But then came the 200 MOD Hydro final in the rough, windy, conditions of the weather shortened 2015 Nationals this July in Wakefield Michigan.
With several wind delays during the week, the race committee finally decided that the course would be moved to the smoothest corner of the lake and the National Title would be decided in a rough and tumble one heat final among the twelve best drivers in the country. As he held onto the 9-S in the moments leading up to the one heat final, Jim Sweeney leaned in to give his driver a few last minute words of advice. “She just turned away from me and looked straight ahead at the lake” Jim said afterward. “That’s when I knew she was in the zone.”
Bumping her way around the five hundred foot buoy as the clock counted down, Amy now elbowed her way into a slot in the front row of starters and slammed the hammer down at precisely the right moment. The little hydro shot forward and crossed the starting going line full steam just as the clock hit zero. The drag race to the first turn was frantic as the twelve drivers pounded their charges over the swells of Sunday Lake in an all-out effort to gain the all-important hole-shot out of turn one.
“And it’s the 9-S of Amy Sweeney leading the pack up the backstretch!” shrieked announcer Scott Glossner as mayhem erupted in the Sweeney pits and the crowd craned their collective necks trying to see the far off racecourse.
Now it was Big Jim Sweeney’s turn to bite his nails as the laps counted down. Another tumultuous uproar filled the air when after lap one it was announced that all boats were legal starters. Now the tension built as the area around inspection began to magically fill with people screaming and cheering for the longtime bridesmaid Amy Sweeney; except for Big Jim, as his driver stretched out a big lead he stood alone up to his waist in six feet of water silently watching his driver transverse the choppy conditions of the shortened course. When the checkered flag finally flew ending lap three Big Jim’s meaty fists thrust skyward in a silent salute to the heavens. It was a few moments however, before he turned to accept the congratulations of his friends and not surprisingly, from the families of the competition.
Later that evening, at the conclusion of the awards ceremony, Amy was asked how it felt to finally be holding the National Championship trophy. And true to form she was quick to spread the credit. “It wasn’t just me” she stated as the winners smile lingered on her face. “There were a lot of people involved who made this happen, from Jim to the entire Hauenstein Family for their support and of course all my racing friends. I was really beginning to think that this would never happen”.