Lock Haven Regatta remains a family event

LOCK HAVEN – Stroll along boaters’ row at the Lock Haven Regatta, and you’ll see the wet and dirty laundry of a hundred families all hung out to dry on side mirrors and bungee lines, in clear public view.

It speaks for the family quality of the regatta – sponsored by the area Jaycees and in its 43rd year – that the regatta competitors don’t mind leaving their vans and trailers open as fans walk around. A pair of grizzled retrievers – one golden, one black – have the pleasant duty of guarding their family’s air mattresses and panting along to the best of Neil Young.

Kids from 9 to 69, or so, are pushing their hydroplane boats into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River every few minutes to run heats around the Woodward Road Bridge, mostly for the pure joy of high-paced competition, which continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

“Mostly you race for trophies, sometimes for nothing,” said Charlie Gonyea, of Massachusetts, who has come here for 30 years.

The annual Lock Haven Dash for Cash is a big deal in a sport without much in the way of financial incentive. On Sunday, Alexander Jennings Jr. won the event and a pot of about $1,000. His father, Alex Jennings, won the same event several times.

Gonyea retired from racing last year. Now, he sits along the water and watches while he travels along with friends as they race in events all over the country: his crew will be traveling to Maine next, then Crystal Lake, N.Y., then take a trip up to New Hampshire.

“This is every weekend in the spring and fall,” Gonyea said. “In the summertime, it’s hard to get enough water. This is all grass-roots, kneel-down, hydroplane racing. It’s a very family oriented sport.”

Gonyea spoke as the junior racers, 9 to 15 years old, ran their junior boats. Restrictor plates hold down the speeds for the youngsters; the “A” boats, the highest of the four standard classes in the American Powerboat Association (APBA), run 45-horsepower engines and can get up to 100 mph.

The driver’s skill is paramount in hydroplane racing.

“In classes like (junior), you’re at full throttle the whole time,” said Allan Eckert, of Pittsburgh, another retired powerboat driver. “It’s all about the driver, how you move your butt around.”

Mark Monsey, of Tunkhannock, is part of an effort to “get more kids in the water.”

Monsey works with the Delaware Valley Outboard Racing Association to train young racers, a program based in Berwick.

“We put them out there for testing once during the season, and they race the next race if we think they’re ready,” Monsey said.

The kids go through a program of classroom instruction before they get on the water, though they must test at a sanctioned event due to insurance. Monsey said the program had three new racers compete at the regatta this year, and signed up three more who want to learn.

“We’re hoping to get it so that we can teach adults, too,” Monsey said. “So if you want to learn, and you want to race, you can take classes and get out there and run.”