by Jonathan Weaver
Next month’s Riverbration event in Kittanning Riverfront Park is proving not to be just about powerboat racing.
As well as races Saturday, August 20, and Sunday, August 21, the park in downtown Kittanning is scheduled to showcase acoustic guitarists, two boat parades and other concert bands and small ensembles.
Alle-Kiski Strong Chamber Vice-President of Events Lynda Pozzuto estimated about 40 vendors from across the United States will also spread through the park while boats are in the water.
“Our goal is to fill that park with vendors,” Pozzuto said. “We have something that’s going to interest everyone.
“I get emailed two or three a day anymore it seems.”
Friday, Three Rivers Outboard Racing Association Governor and Driver Jeff Williams drove a few laps from the Kittanning boat dock along Riverfront Park in a 500 cc runabout – a boat that can touch 75 miles per hour.
Jeff called the town fire companies and Alle Kiski Strong Chamber a “blessing to work with.”
Race Director Doug Follett, of Aliquippa (Beaver County), has been racing about four races per year since 2005 after being invited to a race in 2000. He volunteered to be the official, and has also directed in Franklin.
“I want to chip in and do it for the club,” Follett said.
However, Follett will not be racing next month. Ric Wagner, Jr., of eastern Ohio, will drive Follett’s #87P bright blue stock hydroplane boat (built in Ontario, Canada) as Follett recovers from shoulder surgery.
Follett expected the new 300cc super stock hydro class to be the most popular next month.
“There are two kinds of boats you’ll see (in Kittanning’s) race: (runabout’s) with a flat bottom and hydroplanes that will actually trap air,” Follett explained.
Follett also praised local officials.
“It’s going to be tight because it’s narrow, but I think this is going to be a great place to race. The water’s nice, our boats don’t draft a lot so (the river) doesn’t have to be too deep, Follett said.
“This is going to be a great weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Jeff’s wife, Mary, has attended races with her husband this year in Georgia, Tennessee and next week at the summer nationals in West Virginia before other races in Ohio and Kentucky.
She expects Riverbration to be special to racers and fans.
“This race will be different from a lot of races because there’s so much enthusiasm in town. We expect there will be a lot of people come to see the races,” Mary said. “Some of the places we go, we don’t race in town, but out on a lake in the middle of some field somewhere and you don’t get a lot of spectators.
Though she has never raced or been tempted to race herself, Mary can tell what Jeff is doing in the water.
“After 36 years, you get to know what he’s doing and what he should have done,” Mary said.
Instead, Mary officiates races and makes sure racers abide by all the rules, including making sure that boats circle all buoys along the course, and is also secretary for the national American Powerboat Association – based out of Detroit, Mich.
She has also seen her fair-share of accidents that cause disqualifications.
“There’s always a small concern when they’re racing because the wakes of boats can cause an accident, but you give them the best safety equipment you can get,” Mary said. “They love it so much, you just tell them to have fun.”
Jeff has broken a rib, a vertebrae and bruised his hip during his career.
Boats are inspected before the beginning of the racing season.
Son, Brian (of Ohio), will race 500 modified and stock hydro next month.
Riverbration will serve as the North American Championship for the 250cc hydro and 350cc runabout series.