The Madison Regatta

by Terry Hogan


Time passed by.  Until time arrived. It was time, and they came again to picturesque Madison, Indiana.  Madison is a town born of the river and the currents run deep.  It was the 4th of July and the unlimited hydroplanes returned.  It was a misty and drippy 4th in Madison, but water didnÕt dampen the spirits of the crews who worked hard prepping the beasts that dance across the tops of waves. 


Crowds came.  Some with umbrellas.  Some with raincoats. Some traveled light and took the risk of dampness.   The smell of barbequed ribs, hamburgers, steaks, and Italian sandwiches hung in the foggy air over the crowd.  Carnival rides, fortune tellers, souvenir stands and the marine recruiters hawked their wares to spectators during the slow periods of the day. 


There were no small hydroplanes this year.  There were no restored boats this year.  It is a personal prejudice, I suppose, but I dearly missed the old restored boats.  I prefer the roar of piston engines to the shriek of the turbines that power the unlimited hydroplanes. 


Nevertheless, it is something to see these boats flutter across the murky Ohio River at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour on the straight-aways.  The rooster tails extend high and long, appearing much cleaner than the river from which they come. The river was high on the 4th.  It was carrying lots of silt to pass on to the Mississippi River. Sandburg might have written, if heÕd been a river fan, that the Ohio, upon reaching the Mississippi, might say, ŌHere old friend, IÕve carried this load for hundreds of miles. I now pass it over to you.Ķ   


While some spectators try the food and souvenir stands during the slow moments, I watch the fans. I met Bill Haworth this year.  Bill is 84 years old and lives in Madison. But his origins were in Illinois.  He was in Charleston, Illinois when he found his way into the army during WWII.  He was with the 82nd Airborne both in Africa and in Europe. After the war, he got a job at the Jefferson Proving Grounds, test firing weapons. Now he is retired.  His face shows many miles traveled.  But his eyes are an intense light blue that look out of place in an aged face.  He comes to the races about every year.  I donÕt know how I could have missed him. His hat carries a small replica of the 82nd Airborne patch.  I donÕt suppose many of his comrades are left and their important stories are gone.


The Miss Madison was clearly the favorite with the crowd.  The town of Madison puts on this event each year.  It is a work of love by many volunteers.  With the demise of the Miss Budweiser racing team that dominated the unlimited racing circuit for years, the races are now more competitive.  The Miss Madison is owned by the citizens of Madison.  It is the oldest name in the sport and is the only boat that is owned by a community. Miss MadisonÕs driver is Steve David.  The first thing people say about Steve is ŌHe really is a nice guyĶ.  And he is.  He signs autographs.  He stops, stoops down and talks to little kids at their level.  I eavesdropped as he spent five minutes explaining to a young boy about how he is strapped into the boat; the safety harness, face mask with air supply; and how the steering wheel has to be set into place after he has been strapped into the boat. 


IÕm writing this late on the 4th.  The winner of the GovernorÕs Cup wonÕt be determined until late Sunday afternoon.  In years past, it frankly didnÕt matter that much to me.  I go to take photos, watch people, and to try to find a worthwhile story or two.


But now I care. I have become a Miss Madison fan.  It is a fine boat, with a fine history, and supported by a beautiful little town chucked full of river history and river architecture.  Finally, I care because Steve David Ōreally is a nice guyĶ. 


IÕll drive the 160 mile round trip again on Saturday.  IÕll look for the perfect photo; IÕll hunt for the perfect story; and IÕll watch the Miss Madison run its qualifying heats, cheering for the home town favorite and the really nice guy who tries to keep her right side up


Addendum: Although Miss Madison had the best qualifying time, she came in second place in the big race Sunday afternoon.  As was the case last year, large logs and other debris swept down the Ohio River Sunday.  The flotsam, at times being the better part of who trees, caused delays in heats and damage to the unlimited hydroplanes. Perhaps next year.