Raceboat Regatta Takes to Wheeling’s Heritage Port

Three vintage raceboats round a turn during the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta on Saturday at Heritage Port. The event continues today. Photo by Alec Berry

WHEELING — Jeannie Newman wore a dundee hat and stood by a boat called Scraps, and when kids would walk by she would encourage them to hop into it and pretend they were going fast.

“You have to grab the yee-haw knob when you hit a turn,” she said, pointing to a small, round object outside the cockpit

The weather wasn’t great for the 12th annual Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta at Heritage Port on Saturday, but the boaters seemed glad to be there in the presence of their machines and each other, a group Newman described as family.

Spectators watched a few runs before an early afternoon call-to-quit because of rain, and the loud engines echoed back against the Ohio Valley hills, saying something of the horsepower at hand.

Newman said Scraps honors the memory of her late grandfather, Thomas Franken, the boat’s maker. She said the weekend was for him, and she said this boat (built in 1964) means a lot to her because of its place in her family.

Newman began driving at the age of 16 after volunteering at various races in the pits.

Her father built engines and brought her along.

“A lot of these guys have known me since I was walking around in Huggies,” she said.

Her first ride was in a boat owned by Ken Warby, the fastest man on water, who went 317.58 mph in 1978. She said she found herself going 110 mph on a watery backstretch here in Wheeling, and she hasn’t let go of that feeling since.

Newman said it is the stories the old timers tell which keeps her most enthralled with the sport. She said everyone has at least a dozen, and they will happily tell them. She said she’s working on stories of her own.

Newman was pulled away as kids lined up to see Scraps. A girl named Susie was shown how to step into the boat, and she was reassured that it was OK to put her foot on the leather seat, and she was told when to grab the steering wheel.

Her father took out a flip phone to snap a picture, and Susie smiled big.

“Isn’t that cool?” Newman said to the girl.

“This is so cool,” she said.

The Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta will resume today at 9:45 a.m.