Gardnerville’s Mike Schiller placed second in his class at the Arizona Drag Boat Racing Association event in Parker, Ariz., last weekend.
Schiller was pleased enough with the finish, but emphasized that it was only a step in what he foresees being his return to the upper-eschelon of the sport after a multi-year absence.
In 2010, Schiller was involved in a near-fatal single-vehicle accident that left him critically injured and without a leg below his left knee.
The seasoned boat racing veteran, multi-time World Finals champion and owner of Gardnerville’s Golden Nugget Automotive made his return to the raceway last year, competing in a pair of drag boat races.
He decided to make his return in earnest this year.
“The important thing to me is that people can see what happened to me and that you can come back from a traumatic injury,” Schiller said. “I want to inspire people because there were people along the way that inspire me.”
Schiller specifically noted John Force, who was badly injured in a funny car race in 2007 yet came back to win the NHRA funny car championship in 2010, as a motivational figure.
“I had the opportunity to talk with him last summer,” Schiller said. “I told him what an inspiration he had been to me during my recovery process and that I couldn’t think of anyone more motivating that wasn’t going to settle for anything less than being what he had been before.”
Schiller raced in the Bluewater Southwest Showdown over the weekend in the Quick Eliminator, settling for a runner-up finish after his boat, Centless No. 302, suffered technical difficulties heading into the final round. He bumped up to a faster class than he’d previously raced in, which required a number of modifications to the boat he’s been running on for years.
“The track is shorter, just 1,000 feet total,” he said. “I put more pressure on the motor, changed the ignition timing and modified the fuel system. It added up to about 350 more horsepower.”
The class also runs on a six-second index, meaning racers can’t complete the course faster than 6.0 seconds or slower than 6.99 seconds, as opposed to the eight-second indexes Schiller had competed in previously.
“I used to run at about 131 mph,” he said. “This weekend I got up to 149.5 mph. It was pretty exciting. I got through the quarterfinals and the semifinals fine, but we were fighting a magneto with a bad belt on it. We didn’t end up getting a chance to race in the finals.
“I brought home a trophy and some prize money, though, so that was nice.”
Schiller’s crew for the weekend included just himself and Wendy Fecteau.
His plan this summer is to compete on the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Association national circuit. He will open his national campaign May 3-5 at Irvine Lake in California.
“I’m going to actively pursue that and see what happens,” Schiller said. “I’ve tried a couple times since my crash, but this was my first success. I was very happy with that.”
Schiller thanked his sponsors, which include Golden Nugget Automotive, Gardnerville Properties, Carson Valley Car Quest, Hot Boat Magazine and Ron Hill Propellers.