Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Dennis Holt Memorial Radio-Controlled Boat Races

For the first time ever, I went to an RC boat race today.  They have an RC boat race at the Jefferson Proving Grounds north of Madison every year as part of the Regatta festivities, but in previous years it was almost always on the same Saturday morning as the actual Regatta.  This year the decision was (thankfully) made to have the RC boat races a week before and I made my way out to Krueger Lake.  All in all this was a great event.  The passion of the RC racers was clearly visible and for the most part they were very friendly but also very competitive.  The racing on the water, while by no means a replacement for Unlimited Hydroplane racing, is nonetheless fun to watch and has many of the same elements (clock starts, roostertails, blowovers and spectacular accidents, deck to deck racing etc.) that people love about watching hydroplanes of all sizes race.  There are also some differences. These boats raced clockwise and had to be started from the pits then thrown into the water.  It was also not uncommon to see people have multiple RC boats to compete in many different events.  One guy seemed to have a boat in every class of racing that was competing, and all of his boats were competitive.  All in all it was a great event and a great way to kick off regatta week and "whet the appetite" for when the big boats come to town next week.
A replica of the Eagle Electric hydroplane, and early 60's hydro driven by Rex Manchester and Norm Evans

A Thunderboat class hydro wearing the colors of Fatboyz Bodyworkz, a Madison bodyshop who helped sponsor the event.

Another Thunderboat class boat.  This boat most closely resembles the 1972 Miss Madison, although I wouldn't call it a replica.

Racers sstarting their boats before sending them out to the water at the start of a heat.  As mentioned before, the boats would have to be started from the shore, usually by turning some internal mechanism in the engine or pulling a cord inside the boat that functioned like a weedeater.  This reminded me of the early turbine years when the engines were started by a crewmember holding some mechanism then sending the driver out.  After the engines were started, a "coach" would toss the boats into the water and the person at the controls would send the boat on its way.  The coach would then stand behind the person piloting the boat telling him or her how many laps he or she had completed.

1/8 scale replica of the 7-Eleven leaving the pits, in the infield is a replica of the 2010 Peters & May

Action from the 1/8 scale race.  It's hard to tell from this photo but the boat on the frontstretch is a replica the Griffon Bud while the boat on the backstretch is a replica of the 7-Eleven. 

Another shot of the Griffon Bud replica, with a Peters & May replica sitting in the infield dead in the water.   The Griffon Bud was running away from the field but went dead in the water on the last turn of the last lap.  Apparently he got caught in some weeds from the lake and was unable to go on.  Yes, even in RC hydro racing they have debris issues.

This Miss Budweiser replica would be the only boat that would finish the first heat for the 1/8 scale hydros.

Small RTR (Ready To Run) hydros were the next to hit the water.  These boats are essentially a stock class that functions as the entry level class  for people looking to get into RC hydro racing.  As the name suggests, a driver buys a boat that is ready to run out of the box and can take it to his or her local race club.  These boats put on a great show, kind of like the 2.5 litre stock hydroplanes that used to run in Evansville and Madison nearly every year.

RTRs can be replicas too.  The boat on the frontstretch was painted to look like the 1999 Miss Pico

The start of the heat for some gas powered RC hydros.  Much like the start of a hydroplane heat the RCs will often come off the gas as the enter turn two to scrub off some speed before the start, then hit full throttle once the clock hits zero.  Some boats though just speed around the course with seemingly no regard for the clock.  Sometimes they look foolish and are on the backstretch when the clock hits zero and sometimes they are able to execute a perfectly timed flying start.  The red boat in the lead was able to time a flying start and ran away with this heat.

Some smaller tunnel boats on the water.  Like the human-driven tunnel boats, these RC tunnels have an outboard engine and are extremely quick through the turns.  I always enjoyed watching the tunnel boat races when they were on the Madison Regatta program and hope that some class of them can return in the future.

Another Tunnel Boat, this one from a slightly larger class than those racing in the previous picture.  There were three of these larger tunnel hulls, but three of them went dead in the water not soon after leaving the pits and this hull won the heat by default

A larger modified RC hydro leaving the pits.  Many of the boats in this class closely resemble the old Winston Eagle "lobster boat" with the very large and wide sponsons and a narrow transom.  These boats were very fast but also hard to control.  A couple boats barrelrolled.  This green boat was leading but then ran into a buoy, sending pieces of the buoy all over the place and slowing the boat until it returned to the pits.

Action from the Thunderboat class.  As the name suggests, these boats are extremely loud and most closely resemble the shovel nosed boats from the "Golden Era" of Unlimited Hydroplane racing.  Not only were they loud and fun to watch, I could quite literally smell the gas coming from the boats as they left the pits.  These boats do a fine job of recreating the racing spectacle of  Unlimited racing's golden era and were very fun to watch.  Also, if anyone needed a reminder of where the race was taken place, they would notice the fact that more than half of the boats competing in the Thunderboat class had Miss Madison painted on it.

This was a fun event to watch and was certainly a crowd pleaser.  It was also great to see so many parents and children involved at today's event.  This is a passion that is certainly passed from generation to generation.  Hopefully the organizers of this event will keep this event on the Saturday before Regatta weekend, as I can see this becoming an event I attend annually.  It should also be of note I saw a lot of people at the races whom I see every year at Regatta were there, so a lot of hydroplane enthusiasts showed up to today's event who wouldn't be there otherwise.  To everyone who organized this year's RC Boat races, thank you for a great event.

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