Vintage Raceboats Ready to Roar Up The Ohio River in New Martinsville

Photos Provided Vintage hydroplane raceboats pack the pit area during the 2018 New Martinsville Vintage Regatta. The event, being held again this coming weekend, already has about 30 boats registered.

NEW MARTINSVILLE — More than 30 vintage hydroplane raceboats — some capable of speeds approaching 140 miles per hour — will be roaring up and down the Ohio River at New Martinsville on Father’s Day weekend, leaving high, long “roostertails” of spray in their wakes.

The boats, no longer permitted to race in American Power Boat Association events because they are not safe enough, will be part of the third annual New Martinsville Vintage Regatta.

Being billed as “speed and spray on Father’s Day,” the event will be held next Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. each day. The venue will be the old Magnolia Yacht Club, scene of the boat races held for several decades. Currently, the building, on North Main Street, is occupied by Dos Hermanos Restaurant.

The event is free of charge to spectators.While not permitted to actually compete, the raceboats will be running fast demonstration laps on a 1.25-mile course. Spectators will be permitted in the pit area to examine the boats, many very colorful, and to talk to drivers.

A number of the raceboats expected this year will be from the Ohio Valley, including both New Martinsville and Wheeling. A new entrant for 2019 will be Mitch Herrick of New Martinsville, who earlier this spring purchased one of the vintage raceboats. Herrick, 57, bought the F-726 “Flying Tiger,” formerly owned by Phil Mitchell of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

The boat, built in 1978, is powered by a custom-built engine that develops more than 600 horsepower.

Mitchell says the “Flying Tiger,” which once held an APBA speed record, has run as fast as 130-135 miles per hour — though Herrick has not yet taken it that high.

An experienced stock car racer, Herrick said he has wanted for many years to own a raceboat.

So, what’s it like to drive one?

“It’s hard to describe,” Herrick said after his first run in the “Flying Tiger,” adding the ride was “exhilarating.”

Another New Martinsville native who grew up watching the raceboats and now owns one is Dr. David Bridgeman, who last year bought the “Gemini,” an A-class boat also capable of well over 100 miles per hour. Bridgeman and Herrick joined two other New Martinsville natives, Jack Wolf and Dr. David Kappel, as raceboat owners. The two have campaigned the coal-black “Sin” hydroplane for several years.

Several of the boats expected for the event raced at the old New Martinsville Regatta and have names that will be familiar to some local raceboat fans.

“From 1938 until nearly the end of the 20th century, New Martinsville enjoyed a special place in the culture of America,” said Penny Morris, president of the New Martinsville Vintage Regatta.

The town was “one of the premier sites for national competition in the sport of hydroplane racing,” with more than 50 world speed records set there, Morris said.

“In an effort to preserve and once again bring to life this history, a small group of dedicated individuals brings vintage hydroplanes back to the local waters to reenact the glory of the bygone days,” Morris added.

Comparing the regatta to an event at which classic cars are shown, another regatta official, Tom Myslinsky, said he envisions four to six boats running on the river with the speed and the “spray of bygone years.”

“Consider it a cruise-in on steroids,” he said.

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