More boats, more races for Roar

A new entity will oversee the powerboat racing at the 13th annual Marietta Riverfront Roar, but many of the event’s popular features will remain the same, organizers say.

And admission will still be free.

For the first time since the event’s inception in 2001, Powerboat Superleague will not be running the event. Instead, the Buckeye Outboard Association, a nonprofit, Portsmouth-based club formed by boat drivers, is taking over for the Roar, scheduled for July 12-14.

“We just felt like we needed to find a cheaper, less expensive alternative … and more in line with our ability to raise funds to support what we’re doing,” committee Chairman Gary Williams said.

The association is excited about the opportunity, said Jerry Book, a Portsmouth powerboat racer and the group’s commodore.

“We’re going to give the folks up there the best show we can,” he said.

One way they’ll do that is by delivering more racing, Book said. Instead of the previous format of a pair of qualifying heats in each class on Saturday before a last chance qualifier and the finals on Sunday, there will be four races, with a competitor’s top three finishes counting toward the final standings.

That gives spectators more to watch and racers, some of whom travel hundreds or even more than a thousand miles, more time on the water, Book said.

“Over 1,000 miles, ride 25 minutes, it’s just no fun,” he said.

They’re also adding a fourth class of boats.

The group’s nonprofit status will allow them to offer larger purses, which will hopefully attract more drivers, Williams said. Book said more than 20 racers were signed up as of Tuesday.

Book’s brother has raced in numerous Roars in the past, but this will be the first year Book competes here as well. A number of the competitors will be making a return trip to the Pioneer City.

“It’ll be a lot of the same old faces you’ve seen,” Book said.

A number of familiar features surrounding the races will also come back, Williams said, including the Run for the Roar 5K Run and Walk, the Roar’s Got Talent competition, a beer garden and live entertainment. Returning after a positive reception last year will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s National Guard stock car, on display downtown July 12-13.

Racing will happen July 13-14, but the festivities kick off Friday evening in conjunction with the Merchants and Artist Walk, where the downtown shops and guest artists will be joined by powerboats on display.

“We’re going to try to get as many as we can on Front (Street) Friday,” Williams said.

A new addition this year is a Kids Zone, which will include activities like an obstacle course and petting zoo, Williams said.

While the Roar committee does solicit donations and use the proceeds from activities like the 5K to support the event, they also make a point to share the wealth, Williams said.

The Run for the Roar proceeds will be split between the Roar itself, Upward Bound and the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley, with those groups both providing volunteers to help with the July 13 race. Members of the Marietta High School baseball team will work the crowds during the races, collecting donations that will be split between the team, for a game trip, and the committee. On Sunday, the Pioneer Corvette Club will keep all the entry fees from its car show, but that event will likely draw even more people downtown, to the benefit of the Roar and vendors set up there.

“Really, we’re willing to talk to any organization that wants to come in and partner with us on something,” Williams said.

Thousands of spectators line the Ohio River Levee for the races, and Williams said the crowds seem to be growing. Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said the Roar has gotten bigger and bigger every year, and noted the city’s popularity among drivers, as drivers on the Superleague circuit voted it their favorite site multiple times.

“I think that says something for our city when people are looking at places to go,” he said.