Slick Racing making waves
After 23 years of racing drag boats, a world championship and even a couple world records, Minden resident Paul “Slick” Fontenot has come to some very simple conclusions about what he does.
“You fight for it,” Fontenot said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve seen a lot of accidents and even seen people die doing this.
“You try to make everything as safe as you can. Sooner or later, you prove to yourself that you are good enough to do this, and then hopefully you stick with it.”
That’s exactly what he has done, putting together a rather illustrious racing career along the way.
This year, his boat I’m Back Hot-n-Bothered stands in second place in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series Pro Elimator Championships standings through two races.
He has high hopes that a strong showing at the Dexter Reservois in Lowell, Ore. July 20-22 will push he and his longime Slick Racing brand to the top of the standings.
“With the way it is set up now, we have six events on the schedule – three association races and three national races,” he said. “Lucas Oil has it set up so teams on the West Coast have a better shot at the championship this year.”
With only three events on the West Coast last year, Slick Racing posted impressive numbers, but simply didn’t have the volume to clinch a world title.
The schedule structure this year will allow Fontenot and his crew to compete in six events and make a solid run at the overall championship.
“It’s working out well this year,” he said. “When Lucas Oil took over after the International Hot Boat Association closed its doors, we lost a lot of the West Coast races we used to compete in. We have a shot now. We will be going to Texas, San Diego and Phoenix at the end of the year for the world finals. We’ll load up the boat in the trailer and tow it across the country.”
Fontenot said his endeavor is largely supported by local sponsorships. The attachment to Lucas Oil has opened the door for new opportunites as well, since its races are broadcast on tape-delay on the Speed Channel, Versus, and the new MavTV.
“Drag boat racing takes longer than auto racing in that it takes a while for us to get the boat in and out of the water,” Fontenot said. “It normally makes it to television during the winter. It helps though, because we can show people what we do without them having to be out at the track.”
Fontenot got his start in racing working with Dick Clark on engines intended to break the land speed record out of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
“I started working on cars when I was a kid,” Fontenot said. “I had to learn to work on my own car, because I couldn’t afford for someone else to do it. I got hooked up with Dick Clark along the way and worked with him for years out on some of those Bonneville cars.
“The more I worked with him, the more I worked with motors. When I eventually moved to Tahoe, I met a guy they called “Chainsaw Charlie” and he’d just started racing boats. I started going with him and the next thing you knew, I had to jump in.”
Fontenot, who moved to Carson Valley in 1978, started racing sportsman eliminator events in 1988.
He and Clark teamed up to break the world land speed record at Bonneville in 1991 at 254.856 mph. In the late 90s, Fontenot worked with a drag bike racing team and eventually returned to drag boats in 2000.
He competed several years in the IHBA circuit, winning a world title in 2007 in the Top Eliminator divison. The following season, though, the 18-year-old engine he’d used to break the world record at Bonneville and a land speed record at El Mirage, started exhibiting problems.
He built a new 541-cubic-inch blown alcohol dart big block engine for the higher Pro Eliminator class in 2008, but was left without a racing series when IHBA shut down in 2009.
Lucas Oil started its own drag boat racing series the following year, and Fontenot has been on that circuit now for two years.
The Pro Eliminator classification, which runs on an 8-second index – meaning boats must complete the straight race course in no less than 8 seconds.
“We built this engine back in 2008 and went to the world finals,” he said. “We can’t go under a 7.7 ET (elapsed time) or they wouldn’t even let us stay in the water.
First time we took it out, I did a 7.5. We got her out, tuned the motor down and went out again. I was backing off at half track and we did it again, another 7.5. We almost got kicked out of the place because we were going too quick. It’s about insurance reasons. We finally got it figured out. It’s a fast boat.
“First race of the season, we went 161 mph with an 8.006 ET. The way we’ve got it set up, there is so much horsepower that we are kicking a lot of it away at the start, and then it kicks in at the end.”
After every race, Fontenot said he and his crew return home and re-torque the heads, change the oils and make sure everything is tuned correctly.
“Then we head back out and do it again.”
One of the quirks of the sport is that without a race course, there really is no where to practice and test out the boat.
“It’s better that way in a lot of ways,” Fontenot said. “When we were heading down to the last race, one of the guys in our class put a boat in a river not too far from the track and he crashed. He ended up in the hospital with a bunch of broken ribs.
“The safest place to practice is at the race track. We get the day before to test and tune all day. We make some practice runs. The class we’re in, you have to post a perfect 8.000 – that’s what qualifies you high.”
The team has races left at Lowell, Oregon and San Diego this year, but Fontenot said he considers Phoenix to be the team’s home track.
“That’s where we always seem to do the best,” he said.
Slick Racing’s crew includes Jim Burkett, Frank Robinson, Scott Knauf, Sean Karow, Andree Pothier.
Sponsors for the team include Percival Construction (Stateline), Carson Valley Welding (Carson City), Carson Valley Transmissions (Gardnerville), Carson Valley CarQuest (Gardnerville), New Pioneer Plumbing & Heating (Minden), A Sign Shop (Gardnerville), Alpine Metals (South Lake Tahoe), Rhyno Built (Gardnerville) and Rex Hutchison Racing Engines (Sacramento).
“We couldn’t do this without them,” Fontenot said. “We could always use extra help. Our class gets a lot of attention, but not near as much as the top fuel pro teams (enclosed capsule boats). But our costs aren’t as great as theirs either.
They are rebuilding their motors after every round. It’s something else.”
For more information on the series, visit lucasoildragboats.com. Anyone interested in more information on Slick Racing can call (808) 989-5544.