Wildwood Park and Clarks Hill Lake played host to American Powerboat Association racing for the first time in decades this past weekend.
If reactions from participants are any indication, it won’t be the last time.
“All the drivers have made comments about this being a great place and wanting to come back,” said Howie Nichols of Cocoa, Fla. “The locals have been behind us and we appreciate everything.”
Nichols, who was there racing alongside his father, Pete, and daughter, Becky, was among the group of racers who began arriving Friday, turning the boat ramp parking lot into a makeshift tent city. The 65 boats there were many fewer than expected for a race, however.
“Generally a boat count runs from about 100-120,” explained Jerry Oberlin of Warner Robins, Ga. “Other racers want to wait and see what the reaction is to a first-time venue.”
Wildwood was the area's first site for powerboat races back in the 1980s, said retired Columbia County Recreation Department Manager Charlie Beale. The races later moved to Augusta on the Savannah River.
Participants said some of the attraction of Wildwood Park is that the lake's large cove beside the park helps block out the wind.
“A lot of lakes, the water is really choppy,” said 14-year-old Austin Price, the 2011 Junior Runabout national champion from Haymarket, Va. “It’s really nice here.”
Competition in the APBA Southeast Division Championships began a little after noon on Saturday and ran until just after 6 p.m. Spectators were there on the hot day watching racers in stock, modified and pro categories – mainly from the Carolina Virginia Racing Association – do three laps around a 3/4-mile course in each race, with speeds reaching up to 100 mph.
“I live up the road and decided to come down and check it out,” said Tom Wooden. “It’s pretty good.”
The biggest race of the day was in the C-Stock Modified category. On the line to the first-place finisher was an automatic berth into the national finals in Michigan at the end of July.
In a twist, second-place finisher and race organizer Mel Thomas loaned a spare boat to Austin VanOver, who took first.
Because VanOver, from Cincinnati, is a racer in the APBA’s Central Division, he was not eligible to receive the automatic berth.
The race was deemed a success.
“Overall I’m pleased, although I would have liked to have had more spectators,” said Jeb Bell, the Wildwood Park coordinator, Saturday. “I’m definitely interested in having them back.”