By BOB PALMER
A wide variety of plaques, pictures and memorabilia adorn the showroom walls of Yellow Rose Marine on Lake O’ the Pines. One perhaps reveals more about the owner than others.
“Mel Friend,” the token from “back in the day” proclaims, “Wild Child.”
If you recall the movie, “Top Gun” and the scene where Maverick and Goose intone together, “I feel the need – the need for speed,” you understand a lot about Mel Friend.
“Competition goes hand in hand with speed,” Friend said last week. He has been certified as traveling at 142.5 miles per hour – in a boat.
Friend tells how he got his driver’s license at 14 and was soon taking his car to local drag races.
“Speed is something I’ve always wanted,” Friend said.
Friend’s quest for more and more speed began in earnest about 1970.
“We had a small boat and were skiing and driving around the lakes,” Friend recalled. “Then we got into boat racing.”
“One day I decided we need a speed boat,” Friend, who worked as a representative for Atlas Van Lines at the time, explained.
A trail of faster boats, bigger engines and more volatile fuel followed.
Meanwhile, Mel’s wife Charlene became active as a water ski racer.
One difference from the ‘70s wild child image Mel makes clear is that racing and skiing were family activities for the Friends.
Mel’s scrap books are full of photos of he, Charlene and the children at the lake for a boat race.
“In the 80s we got out of boats and got into motorcycles and motocross racing,” Friend said.
Jet ski racing followed motorcycles.
“I was even a sky diver for a while,” Friend said. “I never should have gotten into that.”
Friend said he found jumping out of airplanes “thrilling” but a hard landing dislocated his hip.
Friend participated in numerous competitions throughout the Western states. One he clearly remembers ran from Long Beach, Calif. to Catalina Island and back.
“It was 26 miles each way,” Friend said. “We got lost coming back and had to ask a fisherman where the Queen Mary was.”
Friend will tell you he finished second, third or even failed to finish numerous times, but one win stands out in his mind.
“It was a 35-mile marathon race on Lake Roosevelt in Arizona,” Friend said. The race was divided into several classes and types of boats.
“We beat them all,” Friend said.
The search for a retirement home brought the Friends to Marion County.
“Charlene fell in love with the house we have now,” Friend said. “We can look out and see the sunset every night.”
Friend keeps busy with his business, but still occasionally feels the old itch.
“I really do miss the speed,” Friend said.
The couple recently purchased a new Corvette with a 650-horse power engine. Friend says the muscle car is not for racing, though, just cruising the scenic byways.
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