Many people think floating in a boat on a lake or ocean equals a pretty
good day. But drag boat racers think traveling at a record-breaking speed
equals a perfect day.
Drag boat racing combines short bursts of high speed with the splish-splash
of water and the glow of the summer sunshine. If the number of people entering
competitions across North America means anything, this sport is growing almost
as fast as the boats are traveling.
Like race cars, drag boats race in classes based on what type of fuel is
powering the boat. The fastest boats are top-fuel vessels that run on alcohol
or jet fuel. They're so fast that hitting even the slightest wave or wake
can make a boat crash.
Owning a drag racing boat is expensive. Top-fuel drag boats often cost
$200,000 or more. Factory-class drag boats often cost $20,000 to $40,000.
Butch Blow is a member of the Ratified Racing Crew. He says you don't have
to have a ridiculously fat wallet to get involved. However, it is still expensive.
"You can get into it [for] anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 I would think,"
A good way to get a feel for the sport, says Blow, is to use a lake boat
in a river race. Classified as either River Racer I or River Racer II, these
races are over in about 12.5 or 13 seconds!
Fans say watching drag boat racing is a totally different experience. The
races don't last long. In fact, a boat can take as little as six seconds to
complete a quarter-mile drag race. Because the boats zip by so fast, they
may be a bit blurry as they race by.
Crashing is part of the race. It's what makes the sport exciting and what
keeps fans the most interested. You have to be willing to push yourself to
the limit and endure the occasional flip!
Blow remembers one of his most frightening moments in a race: "My first
time racing this boat, the steering wheel broke off in the middle of the race!
I said a few things, put the steering wheel between my legs and grabbed hold
of the hub and drove it down. I was amazed the boat stayed in a straight line.
Won the race, too!"
Drag boat racers earn money by winning races. But the bulk of their income
comes from sponsors. The sponsors fund their racing boats. They also pay crews,
and pick up travel expenses. However, there are very few pro racers and they're
not getting rich quickly.
Blow says, "We've turned it into a business because it's pretty expensive
just to go out. So, we use our drag boat racing as a marketing tool to try
to get sponsorships."
However, says Blow, finding a sponsor is tough work. "For the most part,
when you say 'drag boat' they go, 'A what?!' So, we just go to different venues
and tell them who we are, but it's a long story!" he says.
Generally, you can't go out and buy a winning drag boat. You'll have to
soup up your boat to keep up with the competition. People who enjoy drag boat
racing often learn to build and repair drag racing boats. Many concentrate
on boat parts, such as the engine or the fiberglass boat body. This experience
can lead to careers in boat design and repair.
Mechanical know-how is important for keeping costs down, going as fast
as possible, and knowing how to tune your boat for a safe ride.
Blow says, "Improperly set up boats can be dangerous. Fortunately, the
boat I have is very well balanced. Normally, you can't even let go of the
steering wheel on a boat like this because they tend to get really funny on
you. Rudders go astray and there's a lot of torque on these motors."
He adds, "You have to know how to build enough horsepower for the purpose."
While drag boat racing is competitive, the atmosphere is cheery and the
camaraderie between racers is strong. Drag Boat Review publisher Beverly Stokes
says, "It's hard to put it into words. A friendly competition, I think, is
what it is. It's pretty tight knit."
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