MADISON REGATTA - Silence on the River


by Terry Hogan


The Madison Regatta survived the car crash of last year to bring unlimited hydroplane racing back again to Madison, Indiana and the Ohio River. You may remember that a car driven by a teenage boy broke through the barricades and crashed into a crowd of spectators before continuing its course into the Ohio River. Several spectators were seriously injured. But like a poorly written novel, last year's bad luck was followed this year with more bad luck.


The river ran silent on Saturday, July 7.  No hydroplanes touched the water.  No roar of the turbine engines echoed off the Kentucky shore.  No rooster tails sprayed upward toward the hot and humid air.  The crowd sat and waited.  But the qualification heats were not run. And the scheduled final heat of the 2.5 liter hydroplanes was canceled.


Saturday, July 7, 2007- Madison, Indiana 

All was quiet on the Ohio River.  But quiet was not good.  The Unlimited Hydroplanes sat on their trailers.  There was little crew activity except for the U-1 crew that was working on repairing damage to the U-1 inflicted recently at the Evansville, Indiana race.  A gust of wind had caught the hydroplane, causing it to flip. The U-1, now known as II.  The boat, in an earlier life, was "Miss Bud".


But for the rest of us, the fans, the crews, the drivers, the media, and the Coast Guard, it was a time of waiting and watching. We watched logs, boards, and other flotsam and jetsam  drift down the mighty Ohio River.  These chunks of natural and man-made floating objects were the villains that stopped the qualifications for the day.  A thin fiberglass hull going 150 mph over the water is no match for a sycamore trunk. 


There were three different stories floating around (pun intended) the shoreline as to the source of the floating debris.  One story was that the Corps of Engineers had opened up the dam upstream at Markland to raise the river two feet to float off a couple of large and expensive pleasure craft that were stuck in the mud.  The second rumor was that a heavy rain had fallen in the watershed of the Kentucky River that is a tributary to the Ohio River upstream of Madison and this was the source of the debris.  The third rumor was it was both of these working in concert  The truth isÉI don't know.  I do know that the boats did not run on Saturday. And therefore qualifications were not completed on Saturday, nor were the smaller hydroplanes (2.5 liter- think small  4-cyclinder in-board engines) allowed to run.


On the bright side, it gave vendors more time to sell food, drink, and souvenirs to the crowd.  I saw some familiar faces.  The Tara card and palm reader was back this year. Her business appeared slow again this year.  Also, back was Charlie Surraw, playing his acoustic guitar for tips.  Charlie looks older than his 80 years.  He has been a fixture of Madison since 1944 when he moved there from Kentucky with his parents.   The most striking feature of Charlie, other than appearing to be very, very, old, is his eyes.  In this old, gray-whiskered face is a set of Paul Newman blue eyes.  They are the eyes of a young man, made all the more striking in the weathered, gray-whiskered face. My guess is that those eyes impressed more that a few women in his 80 years.  While I sat and talked with Charlie,  a young woman stepped out of the crowd to hand him a soft drink.  Madison is a small town.  The residents watch out for one another.  I asked Charlie what he did when he wasn't playing his guitar at the regatta. He said that he plays on the streets in downtown Madison some days.  And some days he stays in his trailer and watches TV.  He softly chuckled to himself.


While talking with Charlie, a young boy walked by carrying  two large stuffed orange fish; one under each arm.  They looked a lot like Nemo. The young lad was obviously  a repeat winner from the nearby shooting gallery set up with other carnival-like games.  He looked pretty happy. He probably didn't even notice that the boats weren't running.


It was a quiet Saturday in Madison, Indiana.   


Sunday, July 8, 2007 - Madison, Indiana 


It was a bright, hot, sunny day in Madison.  The logs and debris were goneÉheading for Cairo, I suppose.  The crowd had returned to see what it didn't see on Saturday. The crowd was not disappointed.  The small 2.5 liter hydroplanes ran their final heat and were awarded trophies.  Qualifications were completed for the Unlimited Hydroplanes and the various heats were run to establish points and the boats' starting position for the final run for the Indiana Governor's Cup. 


The U-1 repairs in progress on Saturday were completed and the former "Miss Bud" was able to run on Sunday.  It clearly benefited from the no-run Saturday.  The former "Miss Bud", re-christened after Budweiser gave up the hydroplane sponsorship, was not flawless in looks as in days of old.  She now sported a few scars- cosmetic repairs had to wait until after the race.


The new "Miss Madison"/ "Oh Boy Oberto", built over last winter, ran well. The bared teeth on the front reminded me of  the old P-51 Mustang nose art in WWII. Of course, Miss Madison is the local favorite and cheers went up along the Indiana shoreline when it won its heat.  Admittedly, one has to look carefully for the Madison city seal on the nose of the hydroplane.  Most of the surface is dedicated to promoting "Oh Boy Oberto". The driver is Steve David who was the 2005-2006 National Driving Champion. But Madison has its "Miss Madison" tradition continuing, and with a boat that looks to be able to win races.


In between heats, "children of all ages" walked the street and tried their luck at the carnival games, or stood in line to buy "Elephant Ears", barbecued beef, barbecued pork, and a variety of highly spiced meats of questionable family history. A large odd single cylinder John Deere  engine fired and popped its way to the attention of the older folks.  It drove a belt that spun the home-made ice cream maker.  It was a good way to attract consumers and surely beat the alternative of turning a crank by hand.  A dip of "hand-made" ice cream went for $5.


There was a winner for the unlimiteds. Unfortunately, it wasn't Miss Madison. She came in a very respectable second.  The winner of the 57th running of the Madison Regatta was U-16, Miss Elam Plus.


I'm pleased that Madison decided to continue its long association with  hydroplane racing.  If you get bored, rent a copy of the Miss Madison DVD.  It will show you a little of Madison, Indiana, the Ohio River, and what hydroplane racing is all about.  And you don't even have to be in 90 degree heat to watch it.


Finally, my hat is off to the many volunteers that spend endless hours to put on the Madison Regatta.  It is quite the little town.