ST. JOHN — Sprint boat racers took over Webb’s Slough Saturday as two-person teams navigated tight channels with a variety of twists and turns, hoping to get the fastest time of the day.
The small boats, averaging 12- to 14-feet in length, coursed through the 12-foot wide channels that only measure about 3 feet deep, at times splashing the crowd located on the other side of a chain link fence.
The course at Webb’s Slough always remains the same, but the rotation, or the route the drivers have to steer through, changes on each race day. On average, there are between 25 to 30 turns the drivers need to take as they maneuver around six islands on the course.
It’s a high-speed sport that features jet boats oftentimes loaded with V-8 engines.
Shortly after Eric Petring, of Clarkston, completed a 51.55-second run, he held out his hands, which were still shaking.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said. “The courses are so narrow.”
His navigator, Karen Mesa, originally of Portland, Ore., said it was their cleanest run yet, but she said they still “needed to get a little faster.”
Mesa’s role of navigator is important as the drivers have little time to process what turns they need to take. As Petring focuses on getting the 600 horsepower boat through the winding course at high speeds, he’s guided by Mesa’s outstretched hands, which indicate which turn he needs to take.
Petring is in his third year of driving the boat, dubbed “Bad Idea,” which he originally purchased for his daughter.
As he makes his way through the course, the boat will eat up a full gallon of gas every time, Petring said.
Petring travels to compete at other events in Grants Pass, Ore., and Port Angeles, Wash., but Webb’s Slough provides him a place close to home.
His partner, Jenny Cicero, said Webb’s Slough is the best course around.
“It’s my very favorite track,” she said.
Amanda and Matt Webb originally purchased the field just west of downtown St. John in 2006 to grow alfalfa as an investment for the family. But then they learned the United States Jet Sprint Association was looking for a place to set up a track along the Highway 195 corridor. The Webbs knew two sprint boat owners in the area and decided to tackle the project.
“Matt saw it as an opportunity to bring in income to the town,” Amanda Webb said, adding her husband is a fourth-generation St. John resident. “This community of about 550 people is 100 percent dependent on wheat prices. We wanted to bring in something to bring money in outside of wheat.”
The community embraced the event, which now features about 150 volunteers and draws in around 5,000 spectators.
“We’re just so proud of our entire community and how they get behind this,” Amanda Webb said. “Everyone is so supportive and there is no way we’d be looking at year 13 (of the races) without them.”
This year’s event featured a record number of racers, campers and likely spectators, Amanda Webb said.
Vaughan Trapp and Matthew Denson traveled from the Port Angeles-Sequim area to take part in the event. It was the first time Trapp had raced the boat “Live Wire” and only his fourth time driving.
But, the boat, which he purchased about a month ago, is familiar to him. He was the crew chief for TNT Racing for 10 years, which raced “Live Wire.”
His son, Denson, was his navigator. The team finished their first complete race of the day in 54.72 seconds, after crashing during the first qualifying round.
“We’re feeling good,” Trapp said.
For navigator Jack Bringman, of Lewiston, the event at Webb’s Slough was a return to the sport. He’s done it for about 20 years but took some time off.
“This is my first race back in many years,” Bringman said.
The driver of their boat “Ballz Out,” Dean Lautenschlager, also from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, had completed a 54.10-second run earlier in the day.
The teams at the event compete in four qualifying rounds in three respective race classes as they attempt to get the fastest times to move forward in the competition.
The field is then narrowed to the fastest eight teams, and then the top four. During the final race, the two teams with the quickest times in their class are pitted against each other as they attempt to secure a first-place win.
The top three teams in each class go home with prizes.
There’s about $8,000 in prize money for the taking, according to Amanda Webb.
The second and final race of the year at Webb’s Slough will take place August 24.
For more information, go online to webbsslough.com.
Tomtas may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.