Sunday, September 11, 2011

Speed Boat Racing in Tangent

At the invitation of my friend "Speedy",  I went to my first ever Sprint Boat race yesterday (Sep 10, 2011). It was loud, exciting, hot, and quite a bit of fun! If you want to get a quick sense of what this is like, watch this YouTube video. This video was shot on a different day but is representative of the event.

The story goes that Sprint boat racing got it's start in New Zealand in 1970 with Marathon river racing. Then in the early 1980's, Brian Scott and some of his buddies came up with the idea of racing boats in a manner similar to automotile rally racing where a navigator and a driver work together around a set track. Ultimately the sport migrated to Australia where the idea of building permanent tracks instead of using rivers or temporary channels developed. Channels about 3 feet deep and 12 feet wide were dug and filled with water. Each race has a set track rotation for that day's racing and the navigator is responsible for directing the pilot around the course.

The engines in the boats range from 500 horsepower to well over 1,000 horsepower in the Superboat class. There are three classes, Superboat, Group A-400 and Super Modified. These boats approach straight-line speeds of up to 80-plus miles per hour and with their incredible turning capabilities can pull 3-7 g's in the tightest corners. The ability of these boats to make 90 degree turns was amazing to me! You can read more about the history of the sport here.

The track here in Tangent is called "Field of Dreams". It sits in the middle of a grass seed field right next to the I-5 freeway. I'd estimate that the total size of the track is roughly the size of 50 yards by 100 yards. There is a chain-link fence all around the track and the spectators site behind the fence not more than 20-40 feet from the channels, just out of reach of the plumes of water that the boats create when making these tight turns. There were 3-4 "wipe-outs" during the day, with one boat actually going part-way through the fence into the stands. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was pretty exciting to watch! The safety features on the boat work well.

Turn 1
I was sitting on the long run at the top of this picture (1,2,3), close to the number 1 turn. The first few times you see those boats coming down the channel straight at you and then at the last moment hooking left is quite a rush! The boats finished the course in just over 58 seconds to as long as 71 seconds. The noise from the boats is defeaning and next time I would recommend taking earplugs.

This is a video clip taken near the place I was sitting. It will give you a little idea of my perspective. The announcer's stand was about 50 feet to my right.

 There were three boats for sale at this event. Two of them were racing and one of them crashed twice. The asking price for that boat was $10,000 but I think you might have been able to get a better deal yesterday! They were asking $30,000 for the boat pictured here. I have no idea what the total coast of all the gear and fuel and racing costs are, but compared to some other sports, this one seems almost affordable. Or not. There was a 67 year old driver out there but I don't think I could handle the beating these drivers/navigators take out there. I don't know what the prize money was but I can't imagine it's all that great. Still, it looks like a whole lot of fun!

Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone. Not that great really.
2011-09-10 sprintboat

Here's a link to much better pictures of boats.