Raceboats Back In Parlor City

Remember the old days? A friend from New Martinsville emailed me recently, asking if I remember Friday nights during late September in the ’60s, watching for the raceboats to come into town?

Oh, my, do I remember.

We were eager just to see the hydroplanes and, before we could drive, we’d sometimes ask mom and dad to cruise around downtown New Martinsville so we could spot some of the boats.

They were beautiful, with flashy, colorful paint jobs and intriguing names: Wildcatter, Southern Style, Barracuda, High Winder, Baby Doll …

Friday night was just the preview. Saturday and Sunday were the main event.

We’d go down to the riverfront to watch the boats — actually, part airplanes — skim across the Ohio River at speeds occasionally topping 150 mph. We’d marvel that anyone could control such beasts.

The drivers sometimes seemed absolutely nuts as, even skidding through turns at speeds higher than anything you want to try in your car on a West Virginia road and with other raceboats so close they might have reached out and touched them, they jockeyed for position.

They’re back.

After years in which the old boats could be seen only at the annual Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, they’re coming back to the Parlor City. The New Martinsville Vintage Regatta is scheduled for June 17-18.

Even weeks before the event, about 20 boats had been registered for it. It promises to be quite a show.

If you’re a New Martinsville old-timer, you know why you want to be there. If you don’t remember the old boats, trust me: You need to attend the regatta.

Here’s the thing: Nowadays, the vintage boats can’t race under American Power Boat Association rules.

They’re too dangerous for competition, the APBA says. For one thing, the drivers aren’t belted into the boats.

I know some of these guys and gals. They have to play by the rules with “exhibition” runs only. But trust me on this: If you liked the crazy drivers at the old New Martinsville Regatta, you’ll like those at the new one, too. You’ve never seen an “exhibition” like this.

How do I find this event, you ask? Just drive to Main Street in New Martinsville on June 17-18. Then get out of the car and walk toward the sound of high-horsepower engines roaring.

Or, look for the roostertails on the river.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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