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Hydroplanes bring excitement, chances to renew friendships

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By Dave Taylor

The 2011 Trimble County Fair may be history but local residents have a weekend of entertainment to look forward to as the world’s fastest watercraft power into the Ohio River valley to challenge for the Lucas Oil Indiana Governor’s Cup.

Yes, it’s Madison Regatta time again and this year’s event brings back the screaming helicopter turbine engines and the long, streaming roostertails of the Unlimited hydroplanes which have thrilled local spectators since 1950 on local waters. Unofficially, this (like the Indianapolis 500 in May) is the 100th anniversary of powerboat racing in Madison. According to legend, a group of local motorboat pioneers staged a race to see who was the “Top Gun” of that day back in 1911. Historians such as my good friend Fred Farley (see his review of the 1971 Gold Cup on Page 7) and myself have pored over old regatta records and newspaper coverage from 1911 and have found to record of it. The first regatta—then called an “Aquatic Meet”—found in local newspapers occurred in 1914.

But 50 years ago in 1961, the regatta celebrated the 50th anniversary of boat racing in Madison. The president of the regatta committee that year was the late Richard Heck. Heck, a neighbor of mine when I lived in downtown Madison as a boy, was a competitor in many of those early regattas prior to the first world war. If he said it happened in 1911 I will not question it. Mr. Heck, by the way, was a big game hunter later in life and often would invite neighborhood kids into his game room to show off his numerous mounted game and his elephant’s foot footstool, my personal favorite.

This regatta brings a new series sponsor, Air National Guard, and with that sponsorship comes other fan attractions. Among these will be daily Air Guard flyovers and a Friday concert by celebrated country music songwriter Paul Overstreet.

A new class of boats, the P1 Powerboat Series, will bring a new format of match racing and should be interesting to watch.

I plan for my regatta experience to be much more relaxed than many in the past. I served on the board of directors of Madison Regatta, Inc., for 20 years and during the 1990 and 1996 race years I served as president of the organization. Interestingly, two other members of my 1970 graduating class at Trimble—Denny Jackson and Mark Fisher—also have served as regatta president in past years. During a 15-year period I also produced the annual regatta program book. I was the “Voice of the Regatta” for 20 years on radio, cable TV and the public address system. During several of those years I also traveled with the hydros from Syracuse, NY to Honolulu, HI as a race announcer for numerous major market radio stations, local television and ESPN.

There was never a dull moment.

I am content nowadays to watch others battle the stress load involved with those responsibilities. I enjoy visiting with numerous longtime friends who return annually for the big event like my buddy Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David, H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole who grew up in Madison, Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock and retired longtime Miss Madison driver Ron Snyder who gave me a thrilling 170-mph ride around the Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course a number of years back.

For many it is not so much the thrill of speed on the water but an opportunity to relax with friends on the riverbank on a lazy summer day. I’ve always enjoyed speed and racing. Now I can slow down, unload the stress and revel in the moment.

Let’s hope it’s a thrilling regatta, and a SAFE one, too!