Marietta's 12th annual Riverfront Roar went into some overtime Sunday afternoon due to some wind and waves that caused at least three of the powerboats to overturn during races on a churning Ohio River.
Merv Bjork of Minnesota took the first spill when his Formula 2 vessel struck a wave while negotiating a turn near the Muskingum River confluence. He was not injured and went back into the next race.
But wife Kris Bjork-a Formula 3 boat driver-was still concerned.
ROBB DECAMP Special to the Times
Superleague driver Merv Bjork skims across the Ohio River in his Formula 2 powerboat during Sunday’s 2012 Riverfront Roar races in Marietta.
"My boat only reaches around 50 mph, but he was probably going about 110 when he hit that wave," she said.
Kris said this is Merv's second year driving a Formula 2 powerboat.
"He's fine and went back into the race-we have to wear five-point safety straps-but there's always an unknown factor, and sometimes things can go wrong," she said.
The 2012 Vadakin Cup Winner is Terry Rinker of Tampa, Fla.
Rinker also won the cup in 2011.
About the 2012 Marietta Riverfront Roar-visit the website at www.mariettariverfrontroar.com
About powerboat racing-visit the Powerboat Superleague web site at www.aprsuperleague.com.
If you want to help plan next year's event call (740) 525-1491.
High waves also overpowered two more Formula 2 boats during the next couple of laps, dousing drivers Ashton Rinker of Tampa, Fla., and Donnie McDowell of Orlando, Fla.
McDowell was transported to Marietta Memorial Hospital and listed in good condition in the emergency room at 8 p.m.
The powerboat (also known as tunnelboats) races began on schedule with the smaller Formula 3 boats competition at 1 p.m., but winds in advance of a summer squall soon began kicking up white-capped waves on the Ohio River, forcing officials to order the Formula 3 boats back into the pits.
"The Formula 3 boats are too light for the waves, and we didn't want to mar our safety record," said Sheron Winer, co-owner with husband Sam Winer, of Powerboat Superleague that has brought the Riverfront Roar to Marietta since 2001.
After an approximate 15-minute wait the larger Formula 2 boats were called to the river and began running the 20- to 30-lap race course. The three overturns came during the first several laps.
By 4 p.m. the river waters were much calmer and the Formula 3 boats were able to complete their races.
Results of the Formula 2 and 3 races were not available at press time, but for the second year in a row, Terry Rinker of Tampa won the Vadakin Cup, presented by the family of W.W. "Bill" Vadakin, an early outboard racing enthusiast and supporter of the Mid East Regatta in Marietta.
The cup is awarded each year to the overall winner of the Formula 2 and Formula 3 races.
Betty Sue Vadakin, her brother Weldon Weber, and family friend Dave Ackerman presented the award to Rinker.
Weber, now 80, lives in Florida, and Ackerman, 81, is back in Marietta after years of working in Nevada.
Both are natives of the Harmar area, and used to race in the Mid East Regatta-an early form of powerboat racing-during the late 1940s. The two hadn't seen each other for 60 years and were reunited during the weekend's Riverfront Roar.
"We raced in 1948, '49, and '50 on the Muskingum River," Ackerman said. "The boats were called 2-point and 3-point hydroplanes. They had 2-cycle engines, mainly souped-up Johnson or Evinrude motors, and ran on a fuel mix of Castor Oil and alcohol-I loved that smell."
He said the boats could get up to speeds of 75 to 80 mph.
"You would drive the boats on your knees, hands on the steering wheel," Weber added. "We wore life jackets, knee pads and small helmets-like bicycle helmets. They weren't much protection."
He noted technology has made today's powerboats much safer.
"When the water was rough we could ride our boats from wave to wave, but there was always the chance one could turn you over," Weber said.
The two said they raced anywhere there was water, including towns like Fairmont, Elizabeth, Charleston, Clarksburg and Huntington, W.Va., as well as on the Muskingum in Marietta.
"The town would put up bleachers on both sides of the river and we would hold three days of racing," Ackerman said.
He and Weber took their share of trophies over the years.
"But it all stopped when the Korean War began," Ackerman said.
Both men served in the U.S. Air Force, and had less time to race after returning to civilian life.
"But I'd love to make just one hot lap in one of those new boats," Weber said.
In spite of Sunday's spills, the 2012 Riverfront Roar was deemed a success.
"In 12 years we've only shut the race down one day, and that was because the wind was just too high," said Sam Winer.
He said Saturday's weather was perfect for racing on the river as well as other activities.
Riverfront Roar Committee Chairman Gary Williams agreed.
"We had more than 200 runners and walkers participating in the Run for the Roar Saturday morning-everything went really smooth," he said.
Although there was some rain Saturday evening, Williams said the crowds waited out the thunder and lightning to see a great fireworks display at 9:35 p.m.
"It's been a great weekend for the city, and I commend the Riverfront Roar Committee for the great job they've done again this year," said Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.
He also thanked the Winers for bringing the races to Marietta year after year.
At noon Sunday Sheron Winer presented Matthews with a framed certificate once again naming Marietta the powerboat drivers' choice of best racing site on the Powerleague circuit.
Williams said the committee is already making plans for next year's Riverfront Roar.
"We're a very small committee that's putting on a very big event, so we can always use more volunteers," he said. "If there are people out there who would like to get involved with a non-profit event that brings top entertainment to this area, give us a call."
To volunteer, call (740) 525-1491.