Man, and yes, woman, have been
racing for many thousands of years. We won’t get into religious or
Darwin’ish semantics here, but humans have been racing anything and
everything since their existence. You can be sure when that first wheel was
invented, once of the first activities was to see how fast one could get it
to go down a hill. Yeah, I can picture dinosaur races too. I'm sure you can
We race up mountains and down mountains. In the sky, in and on the ocean.
Asphalt, dirt, grass, cars, bikes, motorcycles, lawnmowers and yes, boats.
It is said that the grass roots of Sprint Boat racing, or Jet Sprinting as
it’s known in its founding country of New Zealand, spawned from Marathon
river racing, which began in New Zealand in 1970.
Marathon river racing is an endurance type of racing that usually takes
place over several days on a river. This type of racing come over to North
America in the 1980’s, mainly in Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
The early 1980’s saw the formation of yet another form of jet boat racing
develop once again in New Zealand. The late Brian Scott, father of Konrad
Scott, who is the CEO of Scott Waterjets—maker of the jet pump you see on
the majority of the racing boats—and four of his mates had been watching an
automobile rally race one weekend when they came up with the idea of doing
that type of racing with their jet boats with the navigator directing the
driver. They had the thought that they could lay out a track around some of
the islands on their local river and have time trials around it. It seemed
to them is would be lots of fun for them as well as the spectators. They
thought that because unlike the marathon boats that go racing by and are
gone people would be able to sit and watch each boat run its complete
Jet sprinting was a success. The sport quickly took off in New Zealand and
then to Australia. In Australia the sport took on a new look. Lacking the
shallow braided rivers to run in that were found all over New Zealand and
the fact that the fishermen and others were also trying to use the rivers
for something other than racing, the Australians came up with the idea of
digging a track.
They found some flat ground and dug channels about 3 feet deep and 12 feet
wide and filled them with water. In the early days they would many times dig
the track directly off the river, and then channel the water into the track
from the river. After the race was over, they would move the dirt back and
the track was history.
The fun really started then and the boats took on a new look.
Racing in such close quarters meant that one little mistake and you were out
of the water in a hurry. That also meant that you were probably going to
roll your boat over, so roll bars became mandatory on all sprint boats.
1990 saw jet sprinting first brought to the US. At first, racing was held in
ponds and lakes, and the boats raced on a track setup with floating buoys.
This was when the United States Sprint Boat Association (USSBA) was formed
as a club. In 1997 the first in-ground track was dug in Marsing Idaho along
the banks of the Snake River.
Here in the US jet sprint racing now consists of three classes, Superboat,
Group A-400 and Super Modified. The USSBA has now transformed from a “club”
to a true sanctioning racing body that sanctions and promotes Sprint Boat
racing in the United States.
The engines in the boats range from 500 horsepower to well over 1,000
horsepower in the Superboat class. These boats approach straight-line speeds
of up to 80-plus miles per hour and with their incredible turning
capabilities can pull 3-7 g’s in the tightest corners.
In my years of reporting and photographing motorsports, I have had the great
fortune to have been given rides in an SCCA 450hp Subaru rally car near
Shelton, Washington and two laps at Portland International Raceway in the
Petersen Motorsports 2004 Le Mans class winner Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
Yes, those were both incredible rides that would please any adrenaline
junkie, but riding in a USSBA sprint boat makes those rides little more than
going to the grocery store for a half-gallon of milk on a Sunday morning
with Grandma at the wheel.
Right out of the box your breath is taken away as you accelerate off the
start line. As your pilot comes to the first corner you see the bank get
closer and closer and you wonder when they are ever going to slow down for
that extremely sharp corner that you can barely see! And they do not
slow down! You grit your teeth and exhale hard as you experience the
incredible g-forces and it’s that way through every straight and every turn.
You’ve heard the term: Racing like your hair’s on fire. This type of
racing is exactly that.
Your lap is over in less than a minute and you’ve hardly even breathed. Your
adrenaline is maxed out, your legs are weak and your hands are shaking. You
will never forget this moment. If you can ever swing a ride in a sprint
boat, do it. You will not regret it.
The sport is growing in interest with new tracks recently dug in St. John
Washington in 2007, where they pull in 3,500-4,000 fans per race, Albany,
Oregon in 2008, where they pulled in 2,500-3000 fans at their first two
races. A new track facility is being constructed in Port Angeles,
Washington, where two separate tracks are being considered.
K&N High Flow Filters is now sponsoring the USSBA’s first true racing team;
Wicked Racing, which consists of three boats in the three classes. The teams
will share racing info, parts and pit space not unlike an IndyCar, F1 or
NASCAR racing team.
There are no less than four hull manufacturers with Shotgun Sprint Hulls and
Scottcraft F1 Sprint Hulls being the two latest from Canada and New Zealand,
respectively. Dave Pfeiler also manufactures hulls and there is also the
American Slipstream hull by Custom Sprint Boats.
Series sponsorship, TV deals, indoor-style stadium racing and racing at
other select areas in the United States are being actively pursued by the
sanctioning body, the United States Sprint Boat Association, for 2009 and
So, stay tuned! This is going to get big! See you at the track.