Essential Lake County: The Boat Races

All the races have finished, save one. The nearly full-capacity crowd mills in anticipation, sipping on Bud Lights and munching on nachos as they watch the water truck spray down the track. Then a sudden cheer comes from the bandstands, and everyone starts yelling. An early 2000’s Blazer pulls out of the pits, dragging a twenty-five-foot fiberglass boat with “Sin Driven” painted on the side. Then vehicle after vehicle pulls onto the track, all hauling various leftovers from boating season on the lake. The grind of fiberglass hulls on the asphalt overpowers the crowd’s cheers. When we first moved here nearly a decade ago, I thought the boat races were on the lake. Nope. It’s much better than that. Finishing first in the boat races has little to do with speed. It’s more about the ability to handle severe damage.

The green flag waves, the crowd screams, and the boats are off. By the first corner, one boat’s already been destroyed, and an old Ford truck’s pushing it up against the wall. Chunks fly everywhere. Security’s busy pushing everyone back from the wall, and for good cause. A huge piece of leftover boat whacks against the mesh fence, separating the crowd from the carnage.

The odor of heated fiberglass fills the air. I’m trying to keep up with what’s happening but can’t see through the smoke of the car with the blown head gasket trying to round turn one. Who’s in first? It doesn’t matter. A roar comes from the crowd watching turn three. It looks like a couple of boats got stuck together, and one car’s dragging the other around the track. I glance at it for a second, then get distracted by the major crash happening directly in front of the grandstands. A boat’s disconnected from its chain and cartwheels in front of the Blazer. The driver twitches the steering wheel, not to avoid it, but to ensure he gets a direct hit. He aims directly for the bow, and it explodes into a spray of fiberglass and old steering cables.

About half the cars can’t drive any more, and only small chunks remain of the boats being dragged. A bedraggled and beaten Crown Victoria struggles across the infield, both tires pigeon-toed. He gives it the gas, and the car lurches sideways, spits out a shock, and dies. Not content with the car’s current destruction level, he floors it until a loud pop comes from the engine and the car’s enveloped in a white cloud.

Then a huge cheer comes from the grandstand. It looks like the Kia spraypainted in tiger stripes got caught up on the 70’s cruiser decked out like a tank and rolled. Smoke billows from the engine, and the driver hunkers down for the end of the race.

Who won? I lost track of the race order long ago, about when the first chunk of fiberglass hit me. But no worries. The announcer and crowd decide that. “Is it car number 69?” he asks. A few cheers. “How about number 3?” he asks, referring to the upside-down Kia. Everyone screams. “Or number 22?” That’s the Blazer still dragging what’s left of the “Sin Driven” boat. More cheers. Eventually, he narrows it down, and the winner with the most applause wriggles out of their wreck of a vehicle and proudly takes the trophy.

There are hours of cleanup to be done on the track. Car parts and chunks of boats spread everywhere. But the crowd’s happy and laughing as they file from the stands. A few pose with the overturned Kia, and others chat with the drivers. But the nights over, and slowly everyone heads home, eagerly anticipating the next boat race.

If you really want to get to know Lake County, you have to see the boat races. The next race is on July 17th. For tickets, head to their website.

David Wakefield

David and Trudy Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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