CAMBRIDGE — The Cambridge Classic celebrated its 103rd year last week, as the Choptank came alive once again with the howl and spray of powerboats racing around a buoyed oval. A one-mile course was laid out in Hambrooks Bay, and two days of racing ensued.
The Cambridge Classic began in 1911, as a match-up between two of the early powerboats of the time. The idea caught on right away, and every year the Classic returned to the waters of the Choptank, the race getting more popular each time. Cambridge was first to host the unlimited hydroplanes in 1948, and has featured both inboard and outboard motor classes. In 1956, the race program tells us, Cambridge hosted the Stock Outboard National Championships, with over 500 entries. Except for the Junior classes, this year would be exclusively inboard boats.
To the uninitiated it is a constantly changing parade, as different groups of boats come out, circle the course a couple of times and then charge as a screaming pack around the oval for five laps, before filing off and being replaced by a new pack.
Basically, each group represents a different class of boat, based on engine size and/or hull design. Do you need to know more than that to enjoy an afternoon of fierce racing? Not really, but we enlisted the aid of Race Director Allen Nelson to help explain some of the intricacies of the sport.
Does it take exotic engines to power these racing boats? “No. One of the popular engines in one of the racing classes (the One-Litre Modified Hydroplane [Y] class) is a Ford Pinto engine, believe it or not.
“When they pick an engine for a class, they choose an engine that is relatively available in a junkyard,” Nelson told us. “That way, people can find an engine fairly inexpensively and build a boat up from there.”
Chevy and Ford V-8 engines power the biggest boats, and two-cycle watercraft engines are also becoming an affordable and powerful choice.
Some of the classes are based on stock engines—meaning factory specifications on the bore and stroke and basic design of the stock engine—and success comes to a racer who knows how to expertly tune and get the most out of his engine and drive train. The modified classes are just that—just about anything goes in the quest for ultimate speed.
How fast can they go? Looking out at the oval on Hambrooks Bay, which was laid out at least 200 yards from shore, they look fast but…it can’t be that fast, can it?
Speaking of the Grand Prix (GP) class that ran on Saturday, Nelson said: “I talked to one of the drivers and he never got below 120 miles an hour, all the way around the race course.” That means 120 in the turns, and at least 140 on the straights. We would say that’s pretty fast! The GP boats are the biggest of the big, and everything else on the river is going a little bit slower than they are. If you want to call 80 to 100 mph slow!
The action in the pits was equally as interesting as watching the boats tear up the bay. Before the race, the boats are lifted out of the “hot pits” by a crane, and carefully placed on the water. Immediately after the race the boats are plucked back out and onto the trailers again, and they are hauled back to the “cold pits” for tuning or repairs, whatever is needed. With 18 or 20 races in an afternoon, the crane operators are kept busy.
Saturday’s event was delayed somewhat by two rainstorms that rolled through, then in the second heat two boats came together in the third turn and one “went upside down,” as they say. The driver was rescued and uninjured. The result of all the delays was a late running program that left three heat races from Saturday that had to be run on Sunday morning.
One of the problems causing race delay on Saturday could be solved by a little more consideration by other boaters. “One problem that is plaguing us, is the boat traffic going up and down the river not adhering to the no-wake zone,” Nelson told us. “They’re causing rollers that are literally life and death to the racers out here. I watched two 50 foot boats come through out there back to back (on the main channel of the river) and they must have had a six foot roller coming off the back. The boat pilots are oblivious, in spite of all the spectator boats out there. When that happens, we have to stop and wait for those rollers to come through. If one of these racers hit a roller like that it would destroy the boat and could seriously injure the driver. We need to find a way to get better cooperation out of the public to lessen the danger to the racers.”
Sunday morning one of the boats caught fire during a race. It was a methanol-powered boat, so the flames are invisible when they erupt. The driver tried to control it and burnt his hand before deciding the best course of action was to jump overboard. The emergency crews extinguished the blaze and racing was resumed. In spite of the accident, the schedule moved along quickly on Sunday, with all the racers getting their chance on the course by the end of the day.
When the racing was over the results were tallied up, and in the Jersey Speed Skiff class, Peg Ewancio of Berlin, Md piloted the boat Zakaru to a win on Saturday, while Rob Garratano of Oceanport, NJ, won the class on Sunday in his boat Indian Summer. The Pro Stock class fell to Parks Jones Jr. of Lake Wylie, SC in Loaded Dice on Saturday, and Paul Fitzgerald of Concord, NC, took the class on Sunday in April.
The K Racing Runabout winners were Paul Fitzgerald of Concord, NC on Saturday in Oh Mona, and Sunday the class belonged to Duff D. Daily from Stuart, Fl, in his boat K-999. The 1.5 Litre Stock class belonged to Karson King of Bear, Del, who won both days in the boat Shameless Say What. Dan Kanfoush of Niagara Falls, NY, won both days of the 1 Litre class aboard Fast Eddie Too.
Howniee Schnabolk of Johns Island, SC, took the win Saturday in the 2.5 Litre Stock class aboard Predator, and John Shaw of Succasunna, NJ, was the winner Sunday in Li’l Lectron. The 5 Litre class was the exclusive property of Robert Kennedy of Bear, Del., after pilotting the TM Special to first place both days, and in the SE class Mel Trevochka of Mississauga, Ont., Canada, took the win both days in his boat Time & Money.
The Nathan Index of Performance Award presented by the Nathan Foundation is given to the boat coming closest to the world record. The winner was Rob Garratano of Oceanport, NJ, driving his Indian Summer Jersey Speed Skiff. Rob was within 95.9% of the record.
Since no National Modified class boats came out this year, the Skeeter Johnson Memorial Award presented by the Hill’s Point Gang was changed. This year the award was given to Bob Zabady, owner of the Showboat Racing Team of Hamilin, PA. For the last several years Bob has brought multiple boats to Cambridge. He has supported the organization with financial contributions each year and this year he was responsible for encouraging many of the 25 flat bottom racers that came to Cambridge, and his efforts were duly recognized.
Another non racing award is given periodically to a person or persons who exemplify sportsmanship and positive contributions to CPBRA. The award is given in memory of one of CPBRA’s founders and a long time racer who passed away from cancer several years ago. Larry Wilson was an active racer for more than 25 years. Beside being one of the club founders he was very active in setting up and helping with whatever needed to be done.
For the last five or six years the Stewart family of Annapolis and Kent Island, MD, besides racing in the Jersey Speed Skiff class, has supported the Cambridge Classic with all sorts of extra activities – helping with the spring fund-raiser, helping in the pits, being risk manager, manning the trash truck and more. As a result of the unselfish service to CPBRA and boat racing the Larry Wilson Sportsmanship Award was presented to Jimmie Stewart and his family.