Wiggins Racing Team is up to speed

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By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent

  The hundreds of people driving on Sutton Bridge Road between Gadsden and Rainbow City each day probably notice a large building and give it very little thought. Perhaps they have noticed the unusual boat that is housed inside when the huge doors are open but not realizing its significance. 

If plans come through this year for one local family and a local race team, this amazing hydroplane boat could bring a world’s championship home to Etowah County.

Asked what it takes to be successful in hydroplane racing, Gadsden’s own Milton Wiggins said, “To win, you have got to run right on the edge; you can’t hold back.” 

On Feb. 20 of this year, Wiggins Race Team was recognized as the Crew of the Year at the H1 Unlimited Awards Banquet held at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Wash. Milton and Charley Wiggins were recognized as the Owner of the Year, while Driver Cal Phipps took third spot in the point standings.

The future looks bright for the U-27 and the Wiggins Racing Team. Crew Chief Charley Wiggins is working to bring an event to Lake Guntersville one day in the near future. 

“This is the closest place where the oval course could be set up,” he said. 

The 2016 racing season begins July 4 in Madison, Ind., on the Ohio River, and Wiggins’ U-27 will represent Gadsden and Etowah County.

The team’s goal for this season is to bring home the Gold Cup, which is considered the top prize in hydroplane racing. This is the equivalent of the Vince Lombardi Trophy in pro football. 

In 2003, the Wiggins Racing team won a world championship at Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada, and won the General Motors Cup, or “Super Bowl of Hydroplane Racing,” in Seattle, Washington, with driver Cal Phipps of Rochester, Minnesota, in the cockpit. 

The Wiggins family has experienced success in this sport since Milton Wiggins raced his first outboard in 1954. The team sold that boat and acquired another after the 2003 season but had problems with the new craft. 

“We just couldn’t make it be competitive,” Wiggins said. 

On July 6, 2007, the team returned to Valleyfield in an attempt to re-establish itself in the sport. The team unveiled a new hydroplane that was virtually untested, a 26-foot-long, 12-foot-wide craft sleek in design with a modern cockpit similar to that of an F-16 fighter plane. Unlike drag boats that have raced on the Coosa River in Alabama, Hydroplanes race on an oval course. The Valleyfield course is one mile and consists of five laps.

Engine problems prevented a high finish in Quebec, although it did not discourage team members. The next stop in 2007 was the General Motors Cup, again in Seattle. In preliminary runs, the Wiggins’ craft had the fastest qualifying time, but a broken lifter forced the team to withdraw because repairs could not be completed overnight. 

The Wiggins’ hydroplane competed in and won an event in 2008, at Pickwick Dam in Hardin County, Tenn. Following that event, the team began making improvements that included building a second engine during the winter and doing its own fuel calculations.

During the next few years other business endeavors caused a lull in the family’s racing ventures. Their boat restoration business and son Charley’s business kept the Wiggins family from the racing circuit full throttle.

Over the last 65 years, Milton Wiggins has been very successful in his racing efforts as competitor, engine buil-der, official, and promoter and team owner/manager. 

In the early years, he competed in smaller outboard hydroplanes and runabouts that only weighed a few hundred pounds and could be carried to the water. 

Over the years, Milton moved to the inboard category of boats powered by automotive engines and eventually to the GP Grand Prix class the team competed in through 2014.

In 2015 Milton and son Charley embark on a new venture at the highest level of hydroplane racing with the purchase of the U-17 Our Gang Racing Unlimited Hydroplane. 

The U-27, as it is currently known, was built in 2007. It is 29 feet long, 12 feet wide and weighs approximately 7,000 pounds. Its Chinook helicopter engine produces 3,000 horsepower, which will propel the hydroplane at 200 miles per hour. 

The Wiggins Race Team is sponsored by Dalton Industries.

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