In the world of hydroplane racing, marked by speed, skill and sheer determination, one racer stands out not only for his prowess on the racecourse but also for his unwavering spirit and resilience in the face of adversity. As a hydroplane racer and cancer survivor, Brent Hall has achieved his dreams — and faced nightmares head-on.

Hall’s childhood fascination with the heart-pounding realm of hydroplane racing evolved into an all-consuming passion. "I used to always collect the Seafair magazines," Hall recalled. "I'd see the drivers, learn their stats and statistics, and now I'm in there.” But it wasn't until he encountered a role model in the sport who shared his background and dreams that Hall's path took a pivotal turn.

The watershed moment arrived when Hall crossed paths with Harold Mills, a trailblazer and the first African American hydroplane racer to compete at Seafair.

Seeing someone who "looked like me" thrive in the sport ignited a fire within Hall, showing him what was possible. Under Mills’ guidance, Hall made the jump from a spectator to active participant.

Hall joined Mills’ crew in 2005, in a move that would prove instrumental to his evolution as a racer.

With determination in his heart, a history-making mentor, and a vision for the future, Hall embarked on his racing career, starting with radio-controlled hydroplanes. This passion soon led him to the pinnacle of the sport: unlimited hydroplane racing, which is marked by its unparalleled speed, specialized boat design, and the captivating spectacle it provides for both participants and audiences.

Now, he hopes to accomplish his dream of becoming a fully-qualified unlimited hydroplane driver, which would require him to complete 10 laps of a hydroplane course at 130 mph or faster and then an extra five to finish it off. “If I am qualified… I'd be the first African American fully qualified as an unlimited hydroplane driver,” he said. "Being able to help [Mills] finish this off, I feel like we're doing it together,” he continued. “And if I get fully qualified, it's not just me getting fully qualified. I feel like it's him, too. He really paved the way during a very competitive time.”

Hall’s goal was disrupted this year when he narrowly missed the mark, completing nine laps. A relatively small hydroplane and gearbox issues were among the challenges Hall faced. Despite his best efforts, Hall fell just short of the 130-mph requirement on one lap, missing it by just a hair at 129.8 mph.

Left, young Hall holds a model hydroplane racer in 1981. Right, Hall smiles in his current hydroplane racer.

Future hydroplane racer Brent Hall, left, holds a model hydroplane at a science fair in 1981. Decades later, Hall, right, is a Seattle-based hydroplane driver. (Right: Courtesy of Mark Sharley) 

But Hall is no stranger to adversity. As a cancer survivor, he understands the value of perseverance and resilience. In 2018, Hall was diagnosed with stage-four kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs.

Hall had his kidney removed and began an immunotherapy clinical trial at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center that had only just become available. He made a remarkable full recovery that he credits to the care he received at Fred Hutch, as well as the organization’s innovative clinical research.

“I'm eternally grateful,” Hall said. “There's new technology and new treatments happening every day. No matter how dire it is, you just don't know until you go through and have it assessed and get to the right doctors.”

This is something Hall knows from his day job. As the director of operations and customer service at Premera Blue Cross, he’s accustomed to helping others navigate health care. He emphasizes the significance of equal access to quality healthcare for all individuals – recognizing how important it was to have health plan coverage that facilitated access to top-notch medical treatments and professionals during his cancer care.

“Making sure everyone has the same access to care is critical. And that's something that I know we at Premera are extremely focused on. So is Fred Hutch,” said Hall. “That [shared commitment] is going to make sure that others have the same opportunity I had to get the latest clinical trials and make sure that they have the best chance to be successful… in their cancer journey.”

Whether racing a hydroplane or navigating a serious medical diagnosis, said Hall, it’s important to have a strong team behind you.

Hall, son Brent Jr. and wife Elsa smile for a photo

Hydroplane racer Brent Hall poses with wife Elsa and son Brent Jr. at Seafair. (Courtesy photo)

On the water, Hall’s team is Bucket List Racing. In the crew, Hall has found a supportive community and a sense of kinship that transcends the racecourse.

“Bucket List Racing is all about making your dreams come true,” said Hall. “I couldn't think of a better match for me than to be with this team…we joke with each other, we tease each other, and it's all in good fun… to let you know that you're loved by your teammates.”

The team's founder, Kelly Stocklin, has been especially important to Hall’s journey with the sport.

"Kelly started when he was 16, bought this boat right here,” said Hall, gesturing toward a hydroplane next to him. “And he said, 'You know what, I want to get qualified as an unlimited hydroplane driver. No one's giving me the opportunity, so I'm buying my own boat. I'm going to do it.’ And he did.”

Through Stocklin and his wife Sharon’s commitment to the crew, the Bucket List Racing team has cultivated an atmosphere of mutual support and shared purpose. As they move forward, they want to grow sponsorship, develop the team and get into a bigger boat.

“What it's built on is dreams… they're hard working. Team Kelly and Sharon will do anything for the team and the drivers…they fight for us, too,” said Hall.

“And the amount of volunteer work that goes into this boat is absolutely amazing,” continued Hall. “Kelly says he’s the janitor, but actually he's the owner… he'll do anything and everything to make sure that we can run and that that means more than you'll ever know.”

Hall’s enthusiasm for hydroplane racing is infectious, especially when he talks about his team, underscoring the joy, exhilaration and camaraderie that define his career. He views his role not only as a competitor but also as an ambassador, igniting the passion of young fans. Achieving his goal of becoming the first fully qualified African American unlimited hydroplane driver would be a significant breakthrough in a sport with a historical lack of diversity.

‘“To be the first, that's something no one can ever take away from me,” said Hall. “And then hopefully that inspires a whole new generation of African Americans, people of color, women, you name it. I think that's what we want to see in the sport is diversity across the board.”

Hall's journey encapsulates the heart of hydroplane racing: a blend of competition, strategy, and a fierce desire to leave a mark on the sport's legacy. With every lap he completes, Hall races towards making history and inspiring generations to come. Despite not qualifying this year, his spirit remains undeterred as he sets his sights on next year’s competition.

“I'm going to keep going after it,” said Hall. “I'll keep going after it until I hit it.”