U-10 Ahern Rentals driver David Bryant (above, right) talks with boat owner Kim Gregory after a test run on Friday. Formulaboats.com I driver Jeff Bernard (below) watches the action from the U-5’s truck. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell, above, and David Campbell, right).
U-10 Ahern Rentals driver David Bryant (above, right) talks with boat owner Kim Gregory after a test run on Friday. Formulaboats.com I driver Jeff Bernard (below) watches the action from the U-5’s truck. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell, above, and David Campbell, right).
Nearly 20 years separate them, but David Bryant and Jeff Bernard have a lot more in common than you might think. Both have won championships, both are considered future stars and both have already made fans among their competitors.

Both are als rUnlimited hydroplane racing rookies and this weekend marks the first time either has faced the daunting Wild Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course at Madison.

Bryant, the 40-year-old from Mesa, Ariz., and Bernard, the 22-year-old from Seattle by way of Detroit took their first turns on Madison's always difficult 2 1/2-mile race course Friday and both made it look easy. Bryant, in the U-10 Ahern Rentals, is currently fourth-fastest at 150.310 mph while Bernard in the U-5 Formulaboats.com I is fifth at 149.882.

"I like this course. It has sharp turns and you can really hang it in there," said Bryant. "I haven't had any trouble getting through them. Of course, I haven't been in there with other boats yet," he added with a laugh.

While the two drivers come from different backgrounds, each have impressed in their short stints with the Unlimiteds. Bernard, who appeared as a pinch-hitter for several teams over the past couple of seasons, got his first full-time ride late last year when his uncle Mike Weber tapped him as his replacement in the U-5.

The former Miss Budweiser T-6 hull is one of the most state-of-the-art in the history off the sport, but Bernard took to the boat easily. He scored a pair of fifth-place finishes in his two races last season and emerged as the darkhorse at last week's season opener in Evansville.

But that's when disaster struck.

While battling with Dave Villwock in the U-16 Miss Elam Plus in Heat 2A, Bernard got too aggressive and caught a gust of a air, blowing over the Formulaboats in a spectacular wreck.

Amazingly enough, the boat was in good enough shape to return to the water several hours later and Bernard himself wasn't hurt badly.

"I banged up my knee and I broke a blood vessel in my eye, but that's all," said Bernard. "I feel fine."

Friday afternoon was the boat's first true return to the water since the wreck. And while Bernard admitted that the boat still has some work left to be done, he was happy with its performance.

"The boat sets up fine. We're just having some issues with the front canard wing," Bernard said. "Hopefully tomorrow, we'll be able to get out there and do some big things. Today was really just a shakedown cruise."

While he is young, Bernard is already a grizzled veteran of boat racing and the tight Madison course didn't faze him much.

"It has tight corners, a lot tighter than I'm used to," Bernard said. "It's different for me, but we'll get it set up to race."

Like Bernard, Bryant has tasted his share of success at the lower levels. He won a pair of national championships a year ago in outboard racing to catch the eye of the U-10 USA Racing Partners.

Last Friday in Evansville was the first time Bryant had ever sat in an Unlimited and he stalled the boat the very first time he pulled away from the docks. But he adjusted quickly enough to make the final heat at Evansville and has opened eyes with his fast speeds Friday at Madison.

"The boat is running really well. The crew has a done a great job," Bryant said. "I haven't done anything. I have the easy part."

While letting the crew make adjustments to the former Miss Budweiser T-3 hull sounds easy, it is Bryant who must take the boat on the water.

Last week at Evansville, driving was far from easy. Three different boats blew over and on two other occasions, boats came together in collisions. All of the incidents have been blamed on aggressive driving.

As a rookie, Bryant was content to simply stay out of the way.

"They told me I could run inside (during the final) and I said I wanted no part of that," Bryant said smiling. "My biggest goal is to just make the (final). We made it last week, barely, but it will be harder this week because there will be fewer boats. But I just want to make it through the race cleanly, get more comfortable with the boat and maybe pick up a heat win eventually. It's all about baby-steps right now."

While he talks about baby-steps, Bryant has already taken big leaps and everybody in the sport sees it.

"He's pretty good. That's why we wanted him so badly," U-10 crew chief Matt Gregory said.

The same can be said for both rookies and it won't be long before fans see just why.