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Through the Lens: Vintage Boat Racing Returns

By Chuck Clegg - | Jul 7, 2021

The image accompanying my story is Earls Yost’s depiction of the 1950s and 60s when our community welcomed dozens of hydroplanes to run on the Ohio River. I used the still illustration to accompany my story in hopes it would preview this weekend’s events.

Thousands of spectators are expected to attend, much as they have since the first event in 1938. Some boat enthusiast return for the remembrance of bye gone days. Others for the excitement of an event they may have never witnessed before. Whatever brings them, they will enjoy the second free summer event in the downtown area. So far the festival has received applications from 37 pre-registered boats that are planning to attend.

The heritage event is much like a car show. When the boats are not on the water, event guests can walk among the boats, taking pictures and talking with the owners and drivers. Those water craft that are present, represent the best of the hydroplanes from the past. Each boat has been restored and brought back to the glory days when they each contended for race wins and season championship points. For these heritage boats, those days have past. Still they bring high speed entertainment to those who love to watch as they race over the water’s surface.

Several vintage hydroplanes these days call the local area home. Here in New Martinsville, David Bridgeman’s boat, Gemini is a sleek class “A” boat. Also, Mitch Herrick and his son Drew are the owners of two boats which they bring to the event. The first hydroplane Mitch purchased is the Flying Tiger. An “F” class boat known for its high speeds. Mitch and his son skills allows them to achieve speeds that spectators expect to see from the boats.

Jack Wolf originally from New Martinsville along with David Kappel and Dan Joseph from Wheeling plan to bring several of their boats to the heritage event. For Kappel and Joseph, it is a family operations. With several boats to maintain and run on the river, it takes their entire family to be part of their racing teams. This year, Kappel and Joseph also plan on returning Miss DeSoto back to New Martinsville, the place where in 1958 she set a world record. That record of 151.271mph still stands today. The driver of Miss DeSoto, George (Buddy) Byers Jr. who set the record in 1958 hopes to return after 63 years to see the restored Miss Desoto.

This weekend’s visitors to the downtown area will also find another event taking place on Main Street. The aroma of barbecued smoked meat will fill the air downtown. A cook off contest will be held with the winners receiving prize money. After the contest, chefs will be selling their home cooked selections to the public.

Guest are reminded the weekend is free and the best viewing area for the exhibition runs can be found south of the fire station. It is suggested spectators bring lawn chairs for their comfort. Activities will being at 10am both Saturday the 10th and Sunday the 11th and conclude at 5pm both days.