Dinner, Charity Auction Kick Off Vintage Regatta

WHEELING – The first engine hadn’t even started at this year’s Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta on Friday evening, and already the event had raised about $1,000 for Easter Seals.

More than 50 vintage hydroplane boats will tear up the surface of the Ohio River this weekend at Heritage Port during the ninth annual event, which continues through Sunday.

The action today begins with opening ceremonies at 9:45 a.m. Heats begin at 10 a.m. and continue through late afternoon. Food and merchandise vendors will be on hand at Heritage Port throughout the day, and a free concert will close out the evening at the waterfront beginning at 7:30 p.m.

For the first time in the event’s history, the regatta’s annual Friday night kickoff dinner featured a charity auction, and the bidding was nearly as fast and furious as the vintage raceboats themselves. A trio of items, including a pair of commemorative blankets and a book signed by more than 120 legends of the sport of powerboat racing, each went for $325 to $375.

Of course, bargain hunting wasn’t exactly the aim of this particular auction. Like the regatta itself, all proceeds from the auction go straight to the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center on National Road, which provides therapy to children with disabilities throughout the area.

“Easter Seals is really the heart and soul of everything we do here,” said Debbie Joseph, who co-founded the regatta with her husband, Dr. Dan Joseph, in 2006.

In its first eight years, the event has raised more than $42,000 for Easter Seals.

Each year, Debbie Joseph continues to marvel at what the event has become. The regatta has gone international, with entries from Canada and Australia this year in addition to boats from all over the United States.

She recalled first meeting with city leaders about holding the event nearly 10 years ago.

“We thought maybe we could bring our friends home to see what a great city we live in,” Joseph said.

Regatta organizers also recognized two recipients of the Henry Lauterbach Excellence in Powerboat Racing Award: Elwood “Woody” Pliescott Jr. of Wadesboro, N.C., and Ann Fitzgerald of Rio Grande, N.J.

The late Rich Hallett Sr., meanwhile, was given the 2014 Boat Builder of the Year award. Hallett build more than 600 raceboats during his career, including “Hustler,” which for a time held the world water speed record.

The honor was accepted by his son, Rich Hallett Jr. of Lake Havasu, Ariz.

WesBanco returns as the regatta’s naming sponsor. Other major contributors include Savage Construction, Merco Marine, the Health Plan, Wheeling Volkswagen-Subaru and Family Medical Supply.