Driver loves the rush

The Shepherds, of Woodlawn, Tenn. hope to instill their love of racing and river sports in the next generation of racers this weekend.

“My wife and I enjoy being together more than anything on the water. This is a family sport and all of these boats (and teams) here are like brothers and sisters to us,” said Jeff Shepherd, 52.

Jeff will be racing a Baba, an Italian powerboat, and the only one of its kind in the country, he said.

The owner of the boat is Dan Bunting, but since he’s the race director, and Jeff’s wife Suzy is a race referee this year, the task fell to Jeff to be on the water.

“He let us put it together, so I’m an interim driver until we get one for this boat,” Shepherd explained. “But racing isn’t an individual sport, it takes a team of people to help us with each race. Getting in the water is a whole production in and of itself.”

From unloading into the river to getting turned around and facing the right way, Shepherd said he relies on the help of his friends to start off a race right.

“There’s no reverse or neutral in these things so really you count on your team to point you in the right direction because once you hit that button, you’re off,” he said.

Suzy Shepherd said now that’s she’s hung up her racing gear and operates more in the official roles of racing she just loves to see old friends and meet new ones at all the summer races.

“I love the people, I get so excited to see all of our friends,” said the five-time world champion drag boat racer. “I raced here last year too, I love Marietta.”

But what the two can’t wait for this weekend is truly the adrenaline rush.

“You’re navigating other boats, debris and turning around a buoy–that’s the biggest thrill, going around a buoy,” said Jeff. “Every bone in your neck and back just pops at the right time with the G-force and you get a big grin, it feels great.”

But the biggest secret to racing?

“It’s what you do with your prop,” he said. “We keep them covered up they say for safety, but really what you did with your prop and how it moves your boat faster is what gives you the edge in racing. And since most people don’t keep a boat longer than six or seven years it’s always a learning curve and adjustments to move your boat faster.”