Thunder on the Narrows
The Kent Island Yacht Club
is the perfect vantage point for the 13th annual running of Thunder
on the Narrows, a boat race featuring flat bottom skiffs and hydroplanes
that reach speeds of up to 75 and 160 miles per hour, respectively.
This year, the Kent Narrows Racing Association will partner with
Special Olympics Maryland in sponsoring the event on Saturday
and Sunday, Aug. 2 and 3. The money that goes to Special Olympics
will support the athletes' participation in the Summer Games,
Winter Games and World Games. Members of the Special Olympics
team and staff will be on site, volunteering in all areas of the
event and manning a Special Olympics booth.
A day at the races makes a great outing for the entire family.
In addition to the excitement on the water, kids of all ages will
enjoy refreshments, games, pit tours and autograph signings by
the race drivers at the end of the races. On Saturday from 4 to
9 p.m., a blue grass concert will take place on the yacht club
Thunder on the Narrows is part of an East Coast circuit that includes
races in Cambridge and Harford County, Md., and Hampton, Va. The
two closest regions to us are the Md./Del./Va./W.V. region and
the N.Y./Pa./N.J. region. Most race enthusiasts, however, pay
little attention to geographical boundaries. "Drivers and fans
come from as far north as Canada, as far south as Florida and
as far east as Chicago," says Jimmie Stewart of Annapolis, a long-time
fan of the sport.
is an exciting year for Stewart, who will be driving for the first
time in the competition. In the past, he raced radio-controlled
model boats and enjoyed watching his father who was a riding mechanic
in the Jersey Speed Skiff class in the early 1970s. "I'm a total
rookie," he says, "[but] I've been around boats all my life. I
love boats and racing---I love competition."
Stewart bought his skiff last summer from the original builder
and used it as a pleasure boat, going out as much as he could
to become familiar with driving it. This year, he has participated
in as many races as possible to gain experience and recognition
as a driver. Rules of the American Power Boat Association dictate
that new drivers in the Jersey Speed Skiff class must complete
10 heats on the outside---that is, giving other boats in the race
the right of way so they can feel what it's like to be in the
heat of competition. After that, they are free to "go run with
the big boys."
the last six or seven years, measures have been adopted to make
the sport safer for drivers. Stewart describes a metal enclosure
called a roll cage. "We call it an anti-boat device," he says.
The roll cage goes over the driver and the rider and is bolted
to the boat. Each person is strapped into a five-point harness
and the harness is bolted to the cage. If a boat goes out of control
and goes airborne over another boat, the roll cage would protect
the occupants of the second boat from being struck by a propeller
or rudder. "When my dad rode, you would grab a handle between
your legs and one on the side and hang on and hope you didn't
get thrown out," Stewart says. "Safety has become a big thing
over the last eight or 10 years. We have to go through special
training every couple of years, similar to what fighter pilots
go through in the Navy and the Air Force. We are flipped upside
down and must remove the steering wheel and remove the harness
and get out without getting into a state of panic, in order to
be certified to drive."
Jersey Speed Skiff is designed to go from running flat to up on
its side when turning abruptly. "It keeps walking itself around
the turn," Stewart says. "It takes skill to read the condition
of the water and the boats around you. It's a very crowd pleasing
class-the boats are always jumping out of the water. You can hear
the RPM's come up."
Stewart is busy readying his boat, Go'n Skiff'n Crazy, for his
first official run at Kent Narrows. Watch for number JS-721. "I
know it looks like my initials," he says, "but the JS stands for
Jersey Skiff. All the boats in my class must have JS on them."
The number 721 was assigned to Stewart in his model boat racing
Joe Cheezum of Centreville explains that boat racing is an expensive
hobby. "I own a couple of boats and have been a national high-points
champion for the last two years, earning the most points in my
class. In the course of a weekend, if we can pay gas money and
hotel bills, we feel thankful," he says. Cheezum's wife, Alicia,
raced as well. "My wife hasn't driven for about two years. She
won the national championship and then quit. We used to race each
other. She had the slower but steady boat that won high points.
Mine was faster but wouldn't finish. I was either setting world
records or breaking down. She would laugh at me."
The Cheezums have had a new boat built this year and its name
is For Sale-and it is for sale. They raced it in Decatur, Ill.,
over Memorial Day weekend and set a world record with it. "A lot
of people came up to look at it that weekend," Cheezum says. "If
we still own it, it will be at the Narrows."
In power boat racing, the owners, drivers, mechanics, builders
and fans seem to comprise one big happy family that moves together
from site to site, doing what they love to do. "Seeing the same
people show up every time is good for morale," says Cheezum. The
Kent Narrows Racing Association and Special Olympics Maryland
invite everyone to come over on Aug. 2 and 3. Start a family tradition
of your own.
Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who
enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.