Rocketing across the waves of the Sabine River in excess of 115 mph with water spraying the windshield, hindering your sight, you rapidly approach a buoy to turn on a dime at G-force speeds.
Not everyone can say they have had the opportunity to experience the thrill of Formula 1 speedboat racing first-hand, but everyone is invited to watch the outboard mayhem ensue as the Southern Professional Outboard Racing Tour comes to Orange once again this year for Showdown on the Sabine from Sept. 20-22 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp at 1000 Simmons Drive. Race times are 3-6 pm on Friday, Sept. 20; 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21; and 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22. The finals are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22.
“There’s just something about when you see 15 boats leave the dock at one time … coming around the race course at over 100 mph … the sound, the smell, the water splashing … it’s just very exciting for people to watch,” said Lyndsay Mathews, Sport Racing Series chief race scorer.
“It is just incredible to watch (the boats) turn,” added John Schubert, Sport Racing Series race director. “They’ll be going 120 mph one direction and about two seconds later, turned around 180 degrees going 100 mph again a different direction.”
And just like any motor sport where there is close competition and racers fighting for position, there is always a possibility of crashes, Schubert said.
“We’ll go through the weekend with a decent amount of accidents. The boats can flip over backwards, they can run into each other in a turn, they can roll on a turn, they can bounce off each other going down the straightaway,” said Schubert, 42, who said he learned the dangers of Formula 1 boat racing first-hand.
“When I was about 30, I was in an accident,” he said. “I went into a turn and the boat rolled on me during the turn. It knocked me out and I woke up in the hospital with a broken back. I haven’t raced since.”
In case of the worst, Schubert assured that his trained rescue group of EMTs are prepared.
“We have a whole rescue crew that takes care of extracting the drivers,” he said. “We’ll get ‘em out, get ‘em on a boat, and get ‘em to the ambulance.”
Racers are from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Detroit and Chicago, and are divided into four classes: Sport F1, Formula Lights, Super Stock Tri-Hull and J-Hydro (a class for kids ages 9-16). All kids wear specially made Kevlar suits and helmets for protection, Schubert said.
“Everything from 55-year-old men to 16-year old girls run the Formula Light class,” he said. “It’s a great place to start. It’s not so difficult that you can’t run it.”
The Sabine Showdown is the last race of a series that goes all over the county, Schubert said.
“It started this season in Port Neches and ends in Orange,” he said. “In between, it goes to Bay City, Mich., and Kankakee, Ill.”
Racers win money and trophies.
“They’ll start with testing, then qualifying heats and then we’ll go to final heats on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “We’ll probably pay out $20,000 to $25,000 over four different classes of racing.”
Schubert said the Sabine River makes an exciting course for racing.
“It’s a great spot for spectators and participants,” he said. “The river is beautiful and smooth. It’s not totally salt, but it’s not fresh. The brackish water is a little bit faster and harder than fresh water. It makes the speeds faster. The course is nice. It’s got the levee going around it and the boat ramp right there. It’s just really set up for what we do well.”
This is the sixth year the event has been held, according to Jay Trahan, director of economic development for the City of Orange. It is organized and funded by the City of Orange Convention & Visitors Bureau, and approved by the City Council in an effort to promote tourism. There are approximately 65 staff and volunteers who work the event.
“There have been up to 10,000 attendees over the 3-day event in the past, and we are hoping for a great turnout this year as well,” Trahan said. “One may expect a family oriented and safe environment with high speed racing boats that create an exciting atmosphere. Also, there’s great food and drinks along with free admission to the event.”
Additional attractions include a free musical concert by the band Rock Alley scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. at the downtown riverfront pavilion, food booths, craft booths, adult beverage booth, pit passes to enter the race area, and helicopter rides that may be purchased. Food booths will include shrimp on a stick, link sandwiches, ice cream cones, adult beverages and several other food items.
The event is a shot in the arm for Orange’s economy, Trahan said.
“The Tunnel Boat Races event is very important to the City of Orange due to the opportunities it creates for increased hotel occupancy, a quality of life event for residents and visitors, and to showcase the City Boat Ramp where the recent Bassmasters Elite Series fishing tournament was held during March,” he said.
Event partners include the Orange Parks Staff, Orange Fire Department, Acadian Ambulance, Orange Boating Club and Orange Chamber of Commerce. Security is provided by the Orange Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Ice chests, pets and bicycles are not allowed. Free parking is available along Simmons Drive; bring lawn chairs and blankets, but pop-up tents are allowed only at the top of the levee. For those who wish to purchase a business VIP Tent Sponsorship for employees and guests, contact the Orange Chamber of Commerce at (409) 883-3536. For additional information about this year’s Tunnel Boat Races, contact the CVB office at (409) 883- 1011 or visit the website at www.orangetexas.org .