May 27, 2011, 4:15 pm


It’s that time again.

Boatnik arrives in Grants Pass and the Rogue River this weekend. Included here are the schedule of events, along with sports writer Larry Cathey’s preview of the Tom Rice Memorial Whitewater Hydroplane Race, along with the sprint and drag boats.

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Saturday, May 2

• 7 a.m.: Public breakfast at American Legion Post No. 28, 206 N.W. F St. in Grants Pass.

• 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Softball tourney.

• 10 a.m.: Parade, downtown.

• 10 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.: Davis Shows Carnival, midway, food, shopping.

• Noon to 5 p.m.: Free Children's ID, upper park gazebo.

• 12:30 to 9 p.m.: Bingo.

• 12:30 to 2:45 p.m.: Sprint boats buoy racing.

• 3 to 5 p.m.: Drag boats.

• 5:15 p.m: Jim Sigel Chevy Drive it Home Golf Shoot-Out, Round 2.

Sunday, May 29

• 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Softball Tourney.

• 10 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.: Davis Shows Carnival, midway, food, shopping.

• Noon to 5 p.m.: Free Children's ID, upper park gazebo.

• 1 to 9 p.m.: Bingo.

• Noon to 2:30 p.m.: Sprint boats buoy racing.

• 3 to 5 p.m.: Drag boats.

• 5:15 p.m: Jim Sigel Chevy Drive it Home Golf Shoot-Out, finals.

• 6 to 7:15 p.m.: Hydroplane time trials.

• 7:30 p.m.: Hydro Calcutta, TapRock Event Center.

• Dusk: Fireworks.

Monday, May 30

• 8 a.m.: Softball Tourney; championship game, 1 p.m.

• 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.: Davis Shows Carnival, midway, food, shopping.

• 10 a.m. to noon: Whitewater hydroplane race warmups, Baker Park to Riverside Park.

• 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Free Children's ID, upper park gazebo.

• 11:40 to 11:45 a.m.: F-15 flyover, Riverside Park.

• Noon: Active Club Memorial Day observance.

• Noon to 4 p.m.: Bingo.

• 1 p.m.: Tom Rice Memorial Hydroplane Race.

• 1:30 p.m.: Ice Cream Sundae Giveaway, Riverside Park, free to all ages.

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By Larry Cathey of the Daily Courier

Dereck Ely and Rob Watson, two of the finest hydroplane drivers in Grants Pass, have a seemingly simple goal for this year’s Tom Rice Memorial Whitewater Hydroplane Race: Bring the title back to GP.

The only problem is, that simple goal is far from simple.

For one, this is the biggest race of the year in the Ore-Cal River Racers Series. While that’s nothing new, because of high water levels in Hoopa, Calif., this year’s Tom Rice Memorial, which will begin at 1 p.m. on Memorial Day, also is the first race of the season for all competitors.

“It’s always nice to get a race in before Boatnik because this is Daytona 500 for us,” said Ely, who finished fifth in 2009 and 2010. “It does add a little pressure to the guys. This is our biggest race and this is the first time we’ve been out competitively.

“It throws a different wrinkle in it.”

The Rogue River, site of the race, also is running a little higher and faster than normal, which could allow for faster times.

Watson said the high water level “covers up a lot of the rocks, so (drivers) can cut more corners and run tighter to the banks.” He didn’t, however, agree with Ely’s assertion that the pressure would be any greater than in past races.

That’s mainly because, in his 11th year, Watson is comfortable in the cockpit.

“I’m used to the boat,” said Watson, who won the Ore-Cal points championship in 2004 and ’05 with the same craft, but used a different boat until the midway point of the 2010 season. “It’s just going to be a matter of the final tune-up to make sure I have it running right.”

He’ll need that boat, one which he used to secure a top-two finish — including a pair of victories — in three of the final four races a year ago, to get past anyone’s biggest obstacle of bringing the title back to Grants Pass.

That obstacle is named Ryan McGinnis. He’s from Gold Beach, and he’s also bringing his brother.

McGinnis, who will start in the 19th position, is working on a championship monopoly when it comes to the Tom Rice Memorial. With three consecutive victories — among four total titles in six years — McGinnis hasn’t faced much turbulence in Boatnik’s main event.

He knows, though, the other 20 racers — including brother Tyler, the runner up the past two years and third on this year’s starting line — are gunning their engines for him.

And while Ryan McGinnis has to, again, be the heavy favorite until anyone unseats him, Monday’s race also will mark the return of Jeff Lewis, the most tenured member of the 21-man field, and the man who shares the record with Don Burnison for most Boatnik hydroplane titles with eight.

Lewis missed the 2010 season, but is building a new boat that should be ready this weekend, a development that has Ely, the second-year Ore-Cal president, quite pleased. The better the competition, the better the event.

“I love it,” said Ely, who drew the sixth pole position. “When my time comes to win it, I want to do it against the best.”

Everyone, though, knows who the best has been in recent years.

Watson, starting 10th, is one who isn’t so much worried about the McGinnises.

For him, his back-to-back third-place finishes have been the result of engine problems.

“My main problem has been breakdowns,” said Watson, who is the last GP resident to win the title, a feat he achieved in 2005. “I don’t think they’ve beaten me as much as I’ve beaten myself.

“I think I have good odds of winning it as long as there’s no mechanical failures.”

That would be just fine with Ely, who’s more concerned with bringing the championship back to Grants Pass than who actually does it.

“Our goal is to bring the cup home to Grants Pass,” Ely said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s him or me. If I have to take second to anyone, it has to be him.”

And if Ely, Watson or Lewis can’t dethrone the champ, there is no shortage of other Grants Pass-area residents — Mike Richardson (17th starting position), Richard Clark (fourth), Derek Woolsey (sixth), Brad Clayton (13th), Steve Keen (8th) and Brian McKnight (Merlin, first) — ready to speed to the front of the pack and bring the title home.

Drag boats

Sheer speed is the name of the game when the drag boats take to the river on Saturday and Sunday.

The boats run in the 120 to 170 mph range and some can finish the 1/4-mile course in 6 1/2 seconds. With a stronger river current, times could look a little slower than in previous years.

Randy Brown, the river committee chairman of the Active Club, said eight drivers have committed to the exhibitions, while he hopes another one or two still sign up. Water levels seem to be the main issue that could put a damper on any festivities.

“Everything is still a go,” Brown said. “We’re hoping to be able to run them. We’ll play it by ear, and if safety is a concern, we’ll run the boats we feel safe with and cancel a few if we have to.”

Grants Pass resident Dan Kirkman will return to the event, which is scheduled to have timing lights and a scoreboard for the second time in as many years.

Sprint boats

The biggest draw of the sprint boats isn’t necessarily the speed, although they do travel plenty fast at 80 mph, but rather the crowd-pleasing tight turns through the buoyed course directly in front of Riverside Park.

None of the sprint boat competitors come from the area, according to Brown, who said most arrive from Idaho and Washington. At least one boat from Canada also will run.

The Wicked Racing Team, which had the fastest time in 2010, will return, as will Kyle Patrick of Albany, a longtime competitor.

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