Leanna Richards, 16, will be driving the "little" Steeler this weekend at the second annual hydroplane racing event on Webster Lake
Hydroplane race set for this weekend
By Patriot Staff
Webster – Last Friday Huey Newport was driving from Cincinnati, where he lives, to Ogdensburg, New York, where he stores his Grand Prix class power boat, to pick it up and bring it to Webster for the sixth race in the American Canadian Hydroplane Association (ACHA) seven-race 2012 season this weekend. His hydroplane, Steeler GP-777, is first in the point standings so far this year, thanks to his driver Bert Henderson's expertise.
Webster Lake is one of just two racing venues in the Northeast, the other being Syracuse. “Webster Lake is a very nice course for the high speed races,” he said.
Newport has been on the Grand Prix power boat circuit for 40 years. He started in the early 70s, he said, building race engines and selling race parts in his shop in Cincinnati. The grand prix class boats, the most powerful in the series, are 24 feet long and 12 feet wide, which makes them wider than allowed on the road. The boats are tilted on the trailers designed to haul them, and once at their destination, are placed in the water with cranes.
These boats have 468 cubic-inch, big-block Chevrolet engines with superchargers, rated at 1300 horsepower. They are fast. On Webster Lake you'll see speeds of up to 140 mph, Newport said. The speed record is 180.621 mph, clocked on a straightaway in California. The engines burn methanol, and easily go through 30 gallons in a typical heat. Newport's Steeler weighs 2,850 pounds.
What's it cost to own a boat like this? Newport said the basic boat, made out of fiberglass and carbon fiber and some wood in the frame, costs $90,000. Engines are $30,000. Then add the support vehicles, truck and trailer, along with an extra engine, and you've got a $200,000 to $250,000 investment.
Newport described Grand Prix racing this way: “It's a good hobby, a lot of fun. But it's very expensive. I didn't do the other man cave things in my life, like golf or cars.” He's hoping that this year will bring him the ACHA championship, after three years of coming in second.
Thirteen of the Grand Prix boats are expected to compete in the Webster Lake races this weekend.
At the other end of the size and power spectrum is the 1.5 liter stock (T) class. Their length is between 13 feet 6 inches and 17 feet 6 inches, weight 750 pounds minimum, and relative speed 95 mph. Most interesting, though, is the fact that the minimum driver age is just 14.
Leanna Richards won the final in this class last year at the Webster Lake race, when she was 15, and she'll be competing again this year. She'll be driving the “little” Steeler, owned by her dad Jeff Richards. Last year Leanna earned the title of ACHA Rookie of the Year for her outstanding performance and second high point score. This year, after five ACHA races, she's just seven points out of first place.
The Richards live in Ogdensburg, a town on the St. Lawrence River, just an hour and half drive south of Montreal and once a hub for boat racing. Most ACHA races are in Canada, so this is a great location to keep boats between races and off-season. Jeff Richard's boat shop is just a block from the river.
Leanna grew up around racing power boats, her father and grandfather both raced, so it was natural for Leanna to want to race too as soon as the age restriction allowed. She started at 14. How does she like racing? “She likes it quite a bit,” said Jeff,. “and she's surprised at how well she's doing.” He himself stopped racing some time ago. “I'm 52 now,” he said, but he still goes to the races.”I do the radios.”
Leanna will be competing with a dozen other T-class contenders this weekend.
Local racer Mike Grendell, founder of the Webster Lake Hydroplane Racing Association and organizer of the event, said he's hoping that lots of townspeople will come out to watch the more than 70 racers compete. He said the town selectmen and officials have been very supportive of the event, and now for it to be successful, local people have to turn out.
There will be lots of activity at the park, with apparel vendors, food vendors, a beer tent, and activities for kids. “We've tried to make this an affordable, family friendly event,” Grendell said.
On Saturday, there will be three qualifying heats for each of the classes of boats. Qualifying heats continue on Sunday, with the high point scorers going into the final race for the championship Sunday afternoon.
Racing begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Memorial Beach Park. Price for adults is $10, kids under 16 is $5, kids under 3 free. On-site parking is $5 and pit access is $10. A meet and greet with drivers at Point Breeze at 6:00 p.m. Friday is free.