Drag boat races coming to East Park Reservoir

A weekend filled with horsepower and high speeds is slated for next month at East Park Reservoir, as drag boat racing is coming to Colusa County for the first time on Sept. 9-10.

That weekend, spectators will get the chance to see boats that run anywhere from 500 to 2,000 horsepower hydroplane 1,000 feet across the water at speeds of 60 to 160 mph. According to Colusa resident Tim Kelley, who recently retired from boat racing after a successful nine-year run, just watching is quite the exciting experience.

“It’s a lot more exciting than your average drag race (on land), because it lets people get a lot closer to the race. They can walk through the pits and talk to people,” Kelley said. “Anyone can make four wheels go down a track, but it’s a lot harder to make something that has no wheels do that. There’s a lot more to watch, and it’s a whole different perspective to racing.”

Under an agreement with the Orland Unit Water Users’ Association and the Bureau of Reclamation, Colusa County manages the recreation activities at East Park Reservoir. The inaugural boat races, organized by Fresno native Dave Lipinski and hosted by the California Hot Boat Association, LLC, will be the latest summer happening to take place at the reservoir just outside of Ladoga, joining a list that includes Camp Tipsy – a popular “rotten boat building contest” – and a couple of music festivals.

“We’re doing a little bit of everything, and we have been actively searching out different kinds of events to happen up there,” said Colusa County’s Assistant Director of Public Works Michael Azevedo. “(Now that we have the drag boat races) I don’t know that we’re actively going to pursue any more special events of this magnitude. We’ve pretty much reached the upper threshold of big events, and we’re turning our focus more toward the regular recreation and camping.”

Azevedo said it wasn’t yet known how much revenue the drag boat races could bring to the county, but said that the hosts will have to pay an event fee equal to the campsite revenue of the spaces they occupy, in addition to 20 percent of their gate sales. The revenue will go back toward the administration, operation, and maintenance of recreational areas at the reservoir.

“I definitely don’t want to characterize this event as a moneymaker for the county, because we’re still trying to break even up there,” he added.

While Colusa County has been working to attract new events to East Park, the boat races came to Colusa County in a more serendipitous fashion. Lipinski said that he randomly stumbled across the East Park Reservoir while looking at maps online, and reached out to the Bureau of Reclamation about potentially holding the drag racing event there. On July 28, the Bureau announced that it had approved drag boat exhibitions and competitions at the reservoir for up to five years. The announcement followed the Bureau’s preparation of an Environmental Assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impact, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“There was a lot of little stuff that we had to go through,” said Lipinski. “It’s so hard to find a place to accommodate what we’re doing with the spectators and the boaters.”

Lipinski said that he is hopeful that the event will draw somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 competitors and 600 spectators this year.

“I just hope that this race, or this event, will draw enough people that we at least break even. I’m not going to promise we’re going to do it next year. We just need to get our feet wet – literally – and see how it goes this year,” said Lipinski. “We’re just trying to attract spectators to come out and enjoy two days of racing.”

Kelley said that on a national level, boat racing is having a “tough go” with some of the bigger organizations canceling events. For both the county and the sport, Kelley said he thought that the event could be a great thing.

“I think it’s great that there going to get out there an make something happen, because there are so few places, especially in California, where they have these events,” Kelley said. “The first year, it might not be a big money maker but if they can keep it going, it could be a great event for the county.”

Food will be available for purchase from vendors, but no alcohol will be sold at the event. Attendees will be allowed to bring their own ice chests, of a limited size. For more information, visit the California Hot Boat Association’s Facebook page or call the Colusa County Public Works Department at (530) 458-0466.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net