The wind was the big winner Sunday morning as Splash on the Prairie wrapped up at Tom Scott Lake in Sedgwick County Park.
The Wichita Radio-Controlled Power Boat Club’s weekend of racing was dominated by the heavier models as high winds and some small whitecaps wreaked havoc with the small gasoline- and jet-fuel-powered boats.
The races, sanctioned by the International Model Power Boat Association, featured a little bit of everything: Lots of camaraderie, boats of every size, shape and possible engine, some impressive mobile tool shops to keep those boats running six laps around a series of buoys for about a mile.
And wind. Lots of wind that made lighter composite-hulled, catamaran-style boats almost useless.
“The challenge on a day like today is rough water,” said driver Kip Wood, president of the Wichita club. “Especially the little guys. They take a real beating out there because most of them don’t even weigh 10 pounds.”
Winning and losing, though, took a back seat to friendship for most competitors.
“Great people. Just absolutely great people,” said Tom Boggs of Oklahoma City. “I’ve known these guys for 15 years or close to it. We’ve traveled up here for years and they come down to Oklahoma City and race with us. Everybody just has a great time.
“There’s a lot of community here with the guys,” said Leon Bailey of Wichita, whose big 15-pound boat was poised in first place with a heat remaining Sunday morning. “You make a lot of friends, and I like to get together just to see the guys. The competition is there, but we’re all good friends and we visit and have a good time. It’s not like a NASCAR race, I suppose.”
Not always, anyway, Boggs and racer Linda Hoyle said.
“We don’t get that hard-core about it,” Boggs said. “Things do happen — there are a few tempers every once in a while — but everyone’s too good friends to let it get that out of control.”
“You probably shouldn’t print this, but me, I like beating the guys,” said Hoyle, whose husband, Allan, was the official race announcer Sunday.
“I go in and they think, ‘Harumph, I’m just running against a girl. No problem.’ They change their story pretty quick because my husband builds some of the fastest boats in our division.”
The art of radio-controlled model boat racing runs the gamut. Entry-level boats cost about $300, and some of the highest-tech composite hull models run up to $3,000. The boats run on souped-up water-cooled weed-trimmer motors, if they run gasoline, and higher-end modified motors that run $30-per-gallon nitro methane fuel, with the nitro-motored boats generally the fastest
Nitro motors turn about 32,000 RPM, Linda Hoyle said. The weed-trimmer motors, which run on torque, hit about 18,000 RPM.
“It’s the difference between a Porsche and a Volkswagen,” she said, laughing..
It takes two people to race the boats: The driver with the radio-controlled device, and a pit person just like the big motor car races, calling the location of the competition and helping execute what’s a fairly complicated start.
“Cheryl (Congdon) is my pit person,” said Wood. “She stands behind me and she also throws my boat in. So when I’m running, she watches the tracks, counts the laps. If there’s a dead boat in the corner, she lets you know where that boat’s at. You race for six laps as hard as you can.”
Where the hobby really gets expensive is the rolling repair shops that most competitors bring — several thousand dollars’ worth of tools, boat parts and other equipment to fix the inevitable repairs needed by the small, light boats.
“You have to,” said Alan Staus, a screen printer for Hallmark Cards. “Extra spare parts for everything. And if you don’t have it, someone will help you out.”
“Dremel tools, soldering guns, hacksaws, wrenches,” said Allan Hoyle. “Oh, I don’t know how much I’ve spent on the shop, but I’d give it several thousand dollars in tools.”
All in fun, Staus said.
“Some people can’t afford to pay $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or even $60,000 for a real shore boat or a racing boat, and this is fairly local for us, racing against friends. It’s a great way to spend a weekend.”