June 2, 2012

Watercross races at Riverfest: ‘Half-man, half-machine’

On the river, they’re fierce competitors.

On the river, they’re fierce competitors.

When the races are over, Aaron Dellinger of Salina and John Hecox of Gothenburg, Neb., are good friends who share the same passion: Jet Skis.

They also share the same philosophy of racing the watercraft.

“It’s about half-ride and half-boat,” Dellinger said.

“Half-man, half-machine,” Hecox said.

“If you’ve got a good machine and you can’t ride, it ain’t going to matter,” Dellinger said.

“If you’re good and you’ve got a slow boat, you can usually win,” Hecox said.

Dellinger and Hecox were among the 40 watercraft racers from across the Midwest who are in Wichita this weekend to compete in the International Jet Sports Boating Association Mid-America Watercross Championships. The racing continues today on the Arkansas River north of the Lewis Street Bridge.

Terry Hiebert of Valley Center, who is one of the event promoters, said racers in nine classes are competing for gift certificates and trophies.

For many of the racers, he said, the event is a tune-up for the World Finals, which will be held in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., in October.

Hecox said he’s been racing the watercraft since 1995 and is a factory support rider for Yamaha, a major maker of the speedy watercraft.

“To me it’s a stress pill,” he said of his weekend hobby.

He and Dellinger, who rides a Kawasaki, were both racing in the open competition on Saturday afternoon.

Dellinger said a rider in that category can “do whatever you can think of to make your boat go faster.”

Dellinger finished first in the 3 p.m. heat, and Hecox finished third.

Dellinger said it’s hard to predict what will happen when the riders get back on the river.

“No two laps are ever the same,” he said.

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