Madison Regatta in the Wake of Tragedy


by Terry Hogan


Madison Indiana held its annual regatta, July 1-2.  It was a two day event, down from three.  The loss of the major Budweiser sponsorship is probably a good guess for the reduction in activities.  But it just seemed that luck was against the dedicated volunteers of little Madison, on the banks of the Ohio River. Floating debris damaged a fragile hydroplane and put it out for the weekend. Temperature reached 93 degrees.  Racing was repeatedly interrupted and delayed by floating logs that drifted into the race course.  These incidents did not stop the race.  But the race was stopped.  The 2006 Madison Regatta, the 55th running of the event, was never completed.  An off course event brought it all to an end, and injured nearly a dozen spectators.


 An 18 year old youth, driving at a reported 50 to 70 mph crashed through a fence, striking a reported 11 spectators who were lined up along the Ohio River to watch the race. Several were taken to the hospital, and early reports indicate that three were seriously injured. At least one was transferred to a childrenŐs hospital. The car sped down Jefferson Street that tees into Vaughn Drive, a street that parallels the Ohio River. The car crashed through a fence, intended to deny vehicle access to Vaughn Drive. The car continued heading south, crossing Vaughn Drive, then leaving the roadway, crashing into the Ohio River at the east end of the boat pit area. This caused the cancellation of the 2006 Madison Regatta, before the final heat of the unlimited hydroplanes was run. 


Vaughn Drive bears the majority of race enthusiasts and strollers who visit everything from a palm reader, to food venders that line the north side of Vaughn Drive. Lawn chairs lined the sidewalk on the south side of Vaughn Drive.  On the grassy slopes beyond the sidewalk, teenagers worked on their tans. Parents, with blankets or chairs, entertained their small children, in between the running of the unlimited hydroplane racing heats.  


Prior to the tragic premature ending of the 2006 (55th) Madison Regatta, luck was obviously not with the dedicated volunteers. Temperatures reached 93 degrees in Madison and was probably several degrees hotter along the banks of the Ohio, with the sun reflecting off the river. Large portions of trees and other debris were floating down the Ohio River due to heavy rains upstream.  This not only caused numerous delays in the running of heats, but it also resulted in damage to one of the fiberglass bodied unlimited hydroplanes.  The U-100, Leland Racing Team struck a floating object. It damaged the single propeller that drives the boat.  The propeller, becoming unbalanced due to the damage, shook the boat so badly that the fiberglass body began to come apart along the rear seams and took on water.  That ended the weekend of racing for the U-100 Leland Racing. 


The beautiful Miss Bud Unlimited hydroplanes and their brilliant red support semis were back at Madison, but they were no longer sporting the "Miss Budwesier" name. The two boats now were "Formula Boats", owned by Precision Performance Engineering, from Decatur, Indiana.  A close examination of these beautiful red boats revealed grinding marks on the hull where Budweiser had been removed and replaced with a new logo.  Perhaps overlooked, or perhaps not, both former Miss Buds still sported their "Born On" dates on their stern; a relic of their Miss Budweiser days.


I am concerned that this tragedy that ended the 55th running of the Madison Regatta may be the ultimate end of the unlimited hydroplane racing at Madison, on the Ohio River.  The Madison Regatta already feared a financial loss on this yearŐs race, due to Budweiser ended its $50,000 major sponsorship of the event. Now the Regatta is being confronted with possible legal and insurance issues relating to the car crash. It will also have to face the demoralizing outcome of a year of hard work and preparation by countless volunteers.  Madison will likely take a "hard look" at undertaking any future events.


As a personal note, I was not at the race when the wreck occurred.  My wife accompanied me to the race this year.  It was her first time.  She staked out a claim to a small grassy patch of shade near a large snag of an old tree along the bank of the Ohio River.  It was just beyond the end of Jefferson Street, beyond the sidewalk, and nearer to the river. She did crossword puzzles during the extended "down time" between racing heats. But about 2:30 she received a call on her cell phone that our home alarm system was going off.  We decided to leave Madison early to return home and deal with what we hoped was only an alarm problem and not a burglary. 


We walked up Jefferson Street to our car and started our trip home. About an hour latter, the car that crashed through Jefferson Street and down the bank and into the Ohio River would pass at or very near where she had been sitting.  There were several small children playing in the shallows of the Ohio River in the area when we left. 


I'm glad I missed that photo opportunity.