SAN DIEGO — While Kevin Aylesworth's friends eagerly awaited their 16th birthdays so they could get their driver's licenses, Aylesworth longed for the day he would be eligible for his boater's license.
"My top priority was to get my boating license," Aylesworth said. "I drove racing boats before I had a driver's license."
So, on March 6, 1984, Aylesworth turned 16, got his boating license and two weeks later raced his first hydroplane.
Now, at 22, Aylesworth of El Cajon will be one of the top competitors in the 2.5-liter hydroplane class of the Gordon Jennings Memorial Regatta on Saturday and Sunday off Mission Bay's East Vacation Island.
It will be Aylesworth's third time piloting Miss U.S. Rentals at this regatta, and he's hoping to have better luck this year than last. In 1989, after the first lap, the bottom of the boat started coming apart, and before the race was over, it had disintegrated. Still, Aylesworth placed third, but immediately after crossing the finish line and standing up, the boat sank.
This will be only his second race since last year's misfortune. Two weeks ago, Aylesworth placed second overall, winning two of four races, in a competition at Lake Castaic. Aylesworth said his primary reason for racing at Lake Castaic was to prepare for this weekend.
"I like to hit one small race before a major race," Aylesworth said. "San Diego is one of the rougher water places. Before last year we had done extremely well here."
Kevin Braun, co-owner of Miss U.S. Rentals with Aylesworth, is the chief mechanic and most vital part of the racing team, Aylesworth said.
"The most important thing is the setup before the race," Aylesworth said. "At the Indy 500, for example, they had a week to set up the car. We have to set up the spot, and we have to set it up correctly. Kevin is the reason why we do so well. He's an expert at setting up the boat.
"He brings a portable computer that he inputs weather temperature, wind conditions, water conditions into. The computer tells him how to adjust everything on the boat."
Also assisting Aylesworth is his wife of two months, Angie, who has been his shore contact for three years.
"She stays on the beach with a radio and talks to me by staying relatively calm. She tells me how I'm doing, where the other boats are, if there are any casualties," Aylesworth said. "It takes someone very understanding to deal with boat racing. It's very stressful."
Although Angie doesn't race now, Kevin said he and Braun are working on a two-seat boat. Not only would it help the sport, but Angie could then accompany him and experience the "indescribable feeling and thrill" that Aylesworth gets from racing at speeds of 100 m.p.h.
By the time Aylesworth was able to race power boats he had eight years' experience racing bathtubs, which is how many of San Diego's current racers began.
In 1974 when the Unlimited Thunderboats first came to town, bathtub races were started and held one month before the thunderboats as a way of promoting the race.
The bathtubs are fiberglass tubs like the ones at home, with an outboard motor on the back. When bathtub races were first starting "you were doing good if your bathtub didn't sink," Aylesworth said. Now bathtubs can reach up to speeds of 30 m.p.h., and racing is taken more seriously.
Aylesworth and his parents, Rich and Patti, were introduced to bathtub racing by the late Bill Muncey, a friend who was the winningest hydroplane driver in history. Muncey was killed in a racing accident in 1981.
"He was our biggest influence in racing," Aylesworth said. "He purchased our first bathtub and first got us involved with racing."
The Aylesworths continue to race bathtubs, and, last August, all three finished first in their classes here.
"That's the first time we've done that," Aylesworth said. "Needless to say we were slightly ecstatic."
Rich Aylesworth will be the race announcer for this weekend's regatta and Patti will be at the regatta supporting the team.
It was at a bathtub race, shortly before Aylesworth's 16th birthday, that Braun approached Aylesworth about racing for him. Aylesworth has been racing for Braun since.
Aylesworth's first hydroplane was Braun's "Pumpkin," which is a "slower boat and good for training the less experienced driver," Aylesworth said. He drove that boat for two years while learning driving tactics.
"As I got better I gradually got better boats," Aylesworth said.
Even after his death, it is Muncey's influence that has kept Aylesworth racing.
"I've always wanted to become an Unlimited Thunderboat driver," Aylesworth said. "When Bill died there was no safety capsule to protect him from flipping out of the boat. Now the boats have a totally enclosed capsule, like an F-14 jet, and now it's very safe to race them."
At the thunderboat races off Mission Bay in September, Aylesworth talked with the crew of the Winston Eagle.
"My goal is to drive a thunderboat," Aylesworth said. "Hopefully we can explain to them (crew of Eagle) that they need me to drive for them."