Sunday, July 12, 2009

Little Boats, Big Balls: Powerboat Racing for The Masses

I spent this past Sunday afternoon about a mile from my house on the shores of Springfield Lake, where Springfield Township and the Village of Lakemore were celebrating the second annual Rock The Docks Festival. With carnivals, beer gardens and an impressive lineup of local rock bands on both the north shore and the south shore of the lake, it's a great backdrop for the exciting show that the 3 Rivers Outboard Racing Association (TRORA) puts on with it's small hydroplane & runabout races.

What makes this particularly enjoyable is the fact that it's a great family event -- the participants include families where two or even three generations of racers are behind the wheel. There's a lot of great sportsmanship, the enthusiasm and camaraderie between the participants is clearly evident, and the action is exciting, albeit on a smaller scale than offshore racing. Attendance was free, all you had to do to get into the pits area was sign a waiver, and they had a nice viewing area set up on shore where you could relax and enjoy the racing with some cheap beer.

That said, my hat is off to these guys. It's takes some serious stones to go flying down the lake at about 70mph in what amounts to a surfboard with an outboard motor strapped on the back. There were middle-aged guys, people in their twenties and kids in their teens out on the lake, and you could tell that everyone was having fun. A couple racers got wet, but the rescue teams were right on top of the situation, and the swimmers were smiling after they were fished out and back on shore. The APBA-sanctioned event was very well organized, and it also got excellent coverage in the local news media.

I caught a discussion on one of the offshore forums that raised the question of how it might be possible to "convert" some of these young "kneel-down" hydro-racers to offshore racing. The main problem is the cost of entry between the two types of racing is so disparate (we all know offshore takes some serious bucks) and there is really little or no "middle area" where these could could make an interim step up towards something larger.

If there was something like this UK-based "Formula Future" series in the US [their website is HERE] it might provide that much-needed step; for the long term health of our sport, supporting a program like this might be something the industry should consider once the economy picks up.

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