Sports

Peninsula speedboaters hope to host finals





With enough power to launch a good-sized rocket and maneuverability to shake up even the most hardcore race car driver, speedboats are quickly becoming the rage for speed freaks in the United States.

And if Dan Morrison has anything to say about it, Olympic Peninsula residents will get to witness that power.

The Port Angeles racer has designs on bringing the United State Speedboat Racing Association finals to the area on Sept. 20 but still needs a racecourse for the 750 horsepower-plus boats and the large contingent of fans they bring.

There are a couple of places in Port Angeles we're looking at," Morrison said last week. "It's just tough to find the right zoning and (right) neighbors. It looks really positive."

The efforts to bring speedboating to the Olympic Peninsula seemed a lock in March after local racers had a tentative agreement with 7 Cedars Casino and the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe to host not only the speedboat finals in September but a regular-series date on July 5.

But Jerry Allen, assistant general manager for the casino, said the tribe didn't have a big enough piece of property to host what the speedboaters were proposing.

"That first date, we're calling it dead," Morrison said."

The USSBA still lists Sequim as the site of the September finals, but Morrison said the championship might be moved to Albany, Ore., if a local site isn't secured.

"That's kind of like our Super Bowl," Morrison said.

Speedboat racing is strong in the Northwest in particular, with three tracks and about two-dozen driving teams listed with the USSBA. That includes Morrison's Liquid Courage squad and two Sequim-based teams: Tim Cummings' Jeepers Creepers and Paul Gahr Jr.'s Live Wire (see www.ussbaracing.com/Teams/).

Running 60 to 70 mph on fuel-injected engines through small canals of just 3 feet of water, sprint boat racing, or jet sprinting, has found a small but strong and growing fan base in the United States, more than two decades after its birth in New Zealand. With four classes of boats - Stocks up to 300 horsepower, Super Modifieds up to 600 hp (including Morrison's and Cummings' boats); the A-400s, with horsepower between 600-750 (Gahr Jr.'s class); and the unlimited super boats - and less than 10 minutes between heats, speedboat races are a constant menu of speed at a frenetic pace.

On the course, boats that feature grooves on their hulls can reach up to 70 mph and actually grip the water better at higher speeds. Drivers and their navigators negotiate a series of turns - about 30 or so - through a maze of gravel islands, all in about 55 seconds or less.

The sport is incomparably safe, speedboaters claim: In about seven years in the U.S and more than 20 in New Zealand and Australia, there have been no reported deaths from speedboat racing.

Safety, however, remains at the forefront of racers and race organizers. Drivers wear fire-retardant suits and gloves, while boats feature restraints for outside arms, roll bars and more safety equipment.

The sport's growth can have a big effect on a little town: At St. John's, a town of about 500 south of Spokane, a 2007 speedboat race brought in 5,000 racers, families and fans.



Speedboat racing links

www.ussbaracing.com

www.v8superboats.com.au

www.jetpro.co.nz

www.jetsprint.co.nz

www.v8superboats.com.au
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