A Roarin’ good time

Photo by Michael Kelly A child plunges down a bounce house slide Friday night on Greene Street, part of a complex of inflatable attractions set up during Riverfront Roar weekend. The powerboat races will be held Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

The sleek boats were parked in a diagonal line on Front Street as the sun sank toward the western horizon. Hundreds of people ambled on downtown streets, admiring and photographing the boats and chatting with their drivers.

The city was getting casually warmed up for Riverfront Roar.

Jimmy Merlew, his brother Steve, and Rebecca Rutledge stood by their two racers, ProTunnel 1 and ProTunnel 2. The group, with their home in the western Michigan town of Fenville, on Lake Michigan, had just arrived after racing in Guntersville, Ala., and following the Riverfront Roar they’ll be back in Michigan for another race.

“We’ve been here before, and we love it,” Rutledge said.

Jimmy Merlew said he got into racing at an early age, and that was 20 years ago.

Photo by Michael Kelly Members of OYO belt out a tune at the beer garden overlooking the Ohio River as Riverfront Roar gets underway on Friday night.

“My dad owned a boat shop, so we were always working on boats,” he said.

The racing takes up his entire summer, he said.

“You just got to love traveling to do this,” he said.

Lee Daniel flecked some dust off his boat, emblazoned with Goldmech Construction sponsorship signs.

“I’ve been racing for 26 years, and I’ve raced in Marietta right from the time it started,” he said. “This site is one of the best.”

Photo by Michael Kelly Spectators admire a racing boat parked on Front Street Friday night. The Riverfront Roar races will be held Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Like Merwen, racing is in his family.

“My dad’s been racing for over 50 years,” he said.

What does it feel like to be driving a boat at 100 miles per hour? “It’s like riding on a cushion of air,” he said.

Jeff Reno is another Riverfront Roar veteran.

“I’ve never missed a race in Marietta,” he said. Reno, from Okeechobee, Fla., said his racer is a 1999 model, maintained and rebuilt over the years.

Photo by Michael Kelly A child reaches down to touch the mirror finish of a racing boat on display on Front Street Friday night. Fifteen of the boats set to race in the Marietta Riverfront Roar Saturday and Sunday were parked downtown for spectators to see.

“Sitting in the cockpit is tight, like a Formula One race car,” he said. “You’ve got a gas pedal, and trim buttons on the steering wheel. In good water, you can make 120 mph.”

Marietta is his favorite stop on the circuit, Reno said.

“It’s always a great race site, and community. I’ve got more fans here than anywhere else,” he said.

By 6 p.m. Friday, 15 boats were on display up the street from the Lafayette Hotel. Vendors were selling everything from hot dogs to cotton candy and OYO was playing bluegrass at the beer garden.

Hope and Jimmie McGeary came down from Seneca Lake to celebrate a brother-in-law’s birthday, timed perfectly for the race weekend.

“We’re going to be out on the river in a boat to watch it,” Hope said. Gesturing down Front Street, she added, “It’s pretty neat to have them all laid out like this to look at.”

Gretchen and Larry Trinta of Danville, Calif., came to visit a friend in Marietta. Leaning on a baluster at the levee, Gretchen said she’d been to the races last year and persuaded Larry to make the trip this year.

“I had a great time, I really enjoyed the boat house, the Ohio River, the shops and restaurants. I didn’t know what to expect from the races – I must have made 10 videos with my phone and sent them to my family,” she said. “I said, ‘Guess what I’m seeing!”

Mike Young, the announcer for the races, said Riverfront Roar is one of the premiere events on the racing calendar.

“It’s a good event, everyone wants to come to it. They love coming to Marietta because you roll out the red carpet,” he said. “There are a lot of race fans here, and there’s no bad place to view it from. It’s zero to 100 mph in four seconds. Get your seats early.”

Heats will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and the finals from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Other attractions are the M&M Kids Zone inflatables, which cover an entire block of Greene Street, numerous food trailers and merchandise vendors, a visit from the Columbus Zoo outreach program from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, a beer garden with live music in the parking lot by the Lafayette, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m Sunday a vintage car show by the Rollin’Oldies Car Club near The Armory.

The heavy rainfall Thursday night raised the river but Carmen Taylor with the Riverfront Roar committee said at worst they would have to do rolling starts instead of launches from the bank.

Logs and other debris could be seen whisking by in the current Friday night, but the drivers said they always need to be on the lookout.

“The river? There’s always stuff in a river,” Steve Merlew said.

Jeff Reno pointed to the keel and propeller mount on the back of his rig.

“See that?” he said. “That’s $10,000.”

Riverfront Roar

Saturday

•10 a.m.: Powerboats on the Ohio River for testing.

•11 a.m.: Beer Garden opens.

•Noon: Opening Ceremonies at the Ohio River levee, M&M Kids’ Zone opens.

•12:15 p.m.: MOV’n Dragon Boat row-by.

•1 to 5 p.m.: Heat races.

•6 p.m. – Midnight: Live entertainment and beer garden at the corner of Front Street and Greene Street in the river-side parking lot. Music by Red Idle Rejects, The Faculty, Aftershock, and J.P. Chandler.

•6:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Columbus Zoo on the Armory lawn, presented by Marietta Morning Rotary Club.

•9:30 to 9:50 p.m.: Fireworks Show presented by Marietta College.

Sunday

•9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Rollin’ Oldies Car Club show, near the Armory.

•11 a.m.: Beer garden opens

•Noon: Race day opening ceremonies

•Noon: M&M Kids’ Zone opens

•1 to 4 p.m.: Final races

•4:30 p.m.: Trophies awarded

Source: mariettariverfrontroar.net

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