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A Weekend of Importance

June 20, 2018
A special column by Chuck Clegg , Wetzel Chronicle

Last weekend I attended two separate events that are part of the town's culture. First, on Friday night, I

attended the Relay for Life walk. The event was held on Magnolia's track field as it has been for several years. The quarter-mile track was surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of luminaries. Far too many for me to count. But the number of luminaries gave me some idea of how many people in our community has been touched by cancer.

The luminary serves to remind us the fight with the disease goes on. For some, they have survived and moved on with their lives. But while some have overcome the disease, they have not forgotten the struggle goes on for many others as they participate in the evening's events. Some of the names written on the luminaries reminds us that not all have won their battle with cancer.

Article Photos

Photo by Chuck Clegg
Pictured are some of the fine folks who made the June 16-17 Vintage Regatta a possibility.

It is important to support and be part of this yearly event. It helps to remind each of us that the Relay for Life takes place once a year, but the struggle for many goes on each day. The diagnosis of the disease once offered little hope. Today the odds increase every day for those affected. At some future relay they will light a luminary for the final defeat of cancer. Today, Relay for Life holds bright the light of hope that the day of defeat for the disease is not that far into the future.

The second event I attended last weekend was the Vintage Regatta on the Ohio River. Both days of the event brought blue skies and high temperatures. The opportunity to be part of the annual event brought 32 boats to town to take part in the weekend's events. Some came as far as Florida. I think of the vintage boat event like an antique car show. The big difference, these antique or vintage boats don't just sit in the pits for visitors to see and visit with their owner.These vintage boats are placed in the water and put on a show for spectators that lined the banks of the river. Although the boats are not officially racing, they still put on a display of competition that rivals the racing of yesteryear. The sound of powerful engines and the smell of high test gas brought back memories of what it was like in the hay days of New Martinsville's boat racing. Crowds watched as colorful boats sped around the rivers marked course of a mile and a half. And the inboards did not fail to send their famous rooster tails of water thirty feet into the air.

Changes in safety rules for the protection of the drivers prevents these boats from competitive racing these days. Still, the owners of these boats can show spectators what it was like when the hydroplanes came to town.

Remember a couple weeks ago I reminisced about a vanilla coke from Blacks Drug store? For me, it is kind of like that with racing boats also. I would ride my bike to town and find a place in the fence where I could slip through without being seen. Then, I would sit and watch the boats race up and down the river. I'll let you in on a little secret. I thought one day I was going to race my own boat. When I won, I would go onto the timers stand and have my picture taken by the newspaper while holding the winning trophy. That was a long time ago. The timers stand is no longer there, and the crowds that sat along the river have also disappeared. As for my dream of winning a boat race, well that never happened. The organizers of the vintage boat weekend are trying to bring back a little bit of those days and the thrill of watching inboard boat racing. One more thing. I did get to ride in a Jersey speed skiff a couple times several years ago. But no trophy for those rides. Just a bruised back side.

Like antique cars, each boat has its own story. Most of the vintage boats have been rescued from the back of dark garages or in a forgotten barn. Some were little more than a pile of rotting wood. The enthusiast who saw the value in restoring the boats have given long hours to saving parts of hydroplane history. These relics of bye-gone days were forgotten because they could no longer race and had no value to the modern racing world.

Fortunately vintage boats have made a comeback. This resurgence in interest is fueled by those who want to preserve an important part of racing history. That history for our community goes back nearly 80 years. During those decades, the event went from a premiere racing weekend, recognized all over America for its local speeds and world records, to vintage show such as this weekends. Declining interest from spectators and sponsors hastened this decline. The cost of maintaining a boat and insurance contributed to the changing outlook for inboard racing. Injury and accidents on the racing circuit mandated that changes to safety for the drivers become the new standard in race boat design.

The boats that attended last weekend's events were engineered for speed and competition. Quarter-inch plywood hulls and open cockpits may have been the standards in the 40s, 50s and 60s. But that has all changed. Those once premier boats of yesteryear have become museum relics or worse, rotting forgotten memories.

These events require a great deal of planning and preparation to bring off without any major problems. The New Martinsville program is in its second year and still remains a free event for spectators. That is due to the hard work of volunteers and event organizers. In order to have such a racing display, you need a couple cranes along with skilled operators to lift boats in and out of the river. Dock workers, pit crews, safety and security workers also need to be on site to help with the event.

I spent a good part of the weekend taking pictures of the boats as they ran the course. Although they were not "Officially Racing," several of the classes sure put on a display of how it traditionally was years ago. A simple weekend antique boat show? Yes, but you need to take into account these antique boats showed their stuff at speeds over a hundred miles an hour while sending rooster tails thirty feet into the sky.

New Martinsville is fortunate there are people who work hard all year long to make events like the Relay for Life and the Vintage Regatta part of our community. These events would not be possible if not for volunteers who dedicate their time to help make these types of happenings possible. I hope that you shared in one or both of the events. If you did and enjoyed it, think about being a volunteer for next year's event. Nearly 55 years ago I slipped through the fence to see hydroplanes race. Last weekend I walked in with my cameras as I have for most of the last 50 years. I hope the pictures I capture with my camera are not the only way future generations can experience the many events organized by volunteers as they look Through the Lens.



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