LABOR DAY WEEKEND Packs in the Thrills

WHEELING – When Debbie and Dan Joseph first began dating, many of their first dates involved going to hydroplane boat races.

Now, the couple have created one of the premiere vintage raceboat events on the East Coast, with this year’s Wheeling Vintage Regatta serving as the eighth annual weekend event.

Debbie Joseph said her husband has always had a fascination with raceboats and used to attend the New Martinsville Regatta as a child. Years later in 2000, the couple bought their hydroplane boat online. They soon bought another one, as did other members of Dan’s family.

“It really has become a family hobby,” Debbie Joseph said.

After working to restore and maintain three boats, the Josephs began traveling to various events on the East Coast. Debbie Joseph said each time they would return home to Wheeling, her and her husband would be reminded that The Friendly City had all of the necessary infrastructure – and water – to hold its own successful event. The couple pitched their idea to Wheeling city leaders in September 2005, and were initially met with silence.

“They admittedly had no idea what we were talking about,” Debbie Joseph said. “But they liked our enthusiasm.”

The first regatta was held in 2006, and over the years has attracted competitors from a number of states. This year’s event will feature nearly 50 boats, including one, “Midnight Miss” coming all the way from Queensland, Australia. Owner Graham Coddington shipped the boat to America in April and is traveling to about a half-dozen vintage events, including Wheeling’s.

With “Midnight Miss” and at least one Canadian entry confirmed to attend, Joseph said for the first time, three different nations will be represented at the event.

In addition to the action on the water, the event also helps serve the local community. Since the inaugural regatta in 2006, event organizers have donated a total of $34,650 to the Easter Seals’ Wheeling center. Last year’s event raised $7,500, compared to $900 in 2006. Major sponsors for this year’s event include WesBanco, A.D. Baker Homes, Merco Marine, Savage Crane and Construction, Health Plan, Lowe’s of Wheeling and Comcast.

The free admission event will begin on Friday when the vintage raceboats and hydroplanes begin to arrive in Wheeling. The pits are open on Friday to allow visitors to see the boats up close. Opening ceremonies begin at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with the first runs taking place at 10 a.m. Heats begin at 2 p.m.

Saturday’s event also includes live music from The Rust Belt Kings with Joe Zelek and Easy Street.