Jim Gardill fancies himself something of a daredevil, having done his share of driving fast cars and motorcycles - but there's something about the thrill of hydroplane boat racing that's almost impossible to match, he said.
What, you might ask?
"I sort of like speed, and there are no speed limits on the river," Gardill said. "So you can go out and have a good time."
Photo by Mike Myer/Racing on the river continues Sunday at the Wheeling Raceboat Regatta at the Friendly City’s Heritage Port.
After borrowing others' boats for the past few years, Gardill participated in his first-ever Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta as a boat owner this weekend. His boat's Wheeling debut was cut a little short, however, as poor weather conditions forced the regatta to cancel its Sunday heats.
For the past several years, WesBanco has been the regatta's title sponsor, and one year event organizers thought it would be fun to let Gardill take one of the boats out for a spin. Like many others, once he'd taken a seat in the cockpit, he was hooked.
Gardill, who manages a law practice and serves as chairman of the board for WesBanco, finds the action a welcome change from how he spends most of his days.
HOLIDAY FUN CONTINUES
- Dan Dague Memorial Car Show for Sight - Registration 8 a.m., judging begins at 9 a.m. - The Highlands (rain date is Sunday)
- Dock Dogs Jumping Show - 10 a.m., Cabela's parking lot, The Highlands
"It's a rush," he said. "The neat thing about it is you can't be thinking about anything else."
Gardill learned that the hard way during last year's regatta when he was driving one of Dr. Dan Joseph's boats, the "Jade Dragon" and saw his son, Chris, along the course in one of the safety boats.
"I thought I'd wave to him and I almost went clear off the course," he said.
Piloting a wooden boat around hairpin turns at speeds that would get you arrested on any highway not named the Autobahn takes razor-sharp focus, indeed.
Imagine yourself behind the wheel, trying to control the 426-horsepower craft with no seatbelt or restraint of any kind holding you back - knowing that the only contact between your boat and the water is the propeller and two small areas, both about the size of a postage stamp.
Not to mention the exposed shaft that runs through the bottom of the cockpit, mere inches from your legs, turning at up to 6,000 rpm.
"I think (my wife's) going to refer me to a good psychiatrist," Gardill said.
Gardill's boat, the "Roman Candle," was built in 1961 and raced extensively during the 1960s and 1970s. The boat had been sitting in a museum in New Hampshire before Gardill bought it this spring.
Regatta organizer Debbie Joseph said it was disappointing to have to call off Sunday's heats, on the heels of a Saturday she regards as one of the best days in the event's nine-year history.
She said the rain alone wasn't enough to force the cancellation, but debris in the river made conditions unmanageable.
"It's unfortunate, but the safety of our drivers and the safety of our boats always comes first," she said.