The race starter turns to his left and says, “Thumbs up when you’re ready.”
He turns to the right and repeats the same thing. He then says “lights” into a black walkie-talkie.
The rope goes up — and it’s time to see which boat is the fastest.
Drag boat racing is a sport some said was on the verge of self-destruction in 1988 when it made its home at a private venue called Hidden Lake in Buckeye. A past of damages to expensive boats, serious injuries and fatalities nearly relegated the sport to the dustbin.
The Arizona Drag Boat Association started in 2011 when Jeremey Denny woke up his wife, Jennifer Jacques, at 2 a.m. and said “I think I’m going to start a drag racing association.” Jacques remembers thinking he was crazy. She wondered: where will they race? Who will help them? How will it all work?
“We knew nothing about holding an event at all,” she said.
The association is one of five throughout the country, according to Denny. This year marks the association’s 10th year of racing and on the first weekend of October, the association held an Oktoberfest at Hidden Lake.
The association has its home at Hidden Lake, now owned by Jennifer Mladick. The 120-acre site is a destination for plenty of things, including weddings, music festivals and fishing.
But for Denny, 43, it’s about racing. He grew up around fast boats. He met Jacques at a race when he was 18 and told her,
“When I grow up, I’m going to have a boat and I’m going to race.”
He did. He raced in a baby blue boat that is now his 21-year-old son’s.
From Oct. 1-3, 60 boats and personal watercraft ranging in color from pink to white with loud motors were operated by drivers with louder personalities. In 100-degree temperatures, Ford F-150s towed drivers wearing full-body suits, life vests and helmets in and out of the lake for nine hours each day.
The event brings out people of all ages. Babies sitting on their mothers’ laps in four-wheel quads. Elementary students playing with toy boats in water. Fifteen-year-old girls wearing SoCal Jet Boat shirts. Gray-haired men with faded tattoos and shirts that read “Go Fast” on the back. And a gray-haired woman on a scooter with an oxygen tank.
“My kids have grown up with some of the kids that are here. Now some of the kids who grew up when we started are racing in their own boats,” Jacques said. “It becomes this big family.”
One of those kids who grew up around boats and now races is 20-year-old Tara Scribner, who races with her 33-year-old sister Tanya Scribner. The two sisters’ racing name is Wicked TNT, which is labeled all over their bold pink and purple boats. Tara has been racing for four years.
“(The boat) starts out really slow then all of a sudden it kicks in — it’s like a rocket ship,” Tara said. “I like (racing) because everyone is a family. They’re happy for you if you win or lose.”
Drag boat racing is a male-dominated sport. In the Arizona association, there are more than five women who get onto the water and race.
Carie Ault, 46, is one of them. When her white boat gets onto the lake and is at the line where she’s holding on to a rope until the countdown starts, Mike Starr’s, the announcer, voice booms from the speakers.
“Carie Ault, from Tucson, Arizona, and she calls that boat ‘Momma’s mid-life crisis,’” Starr’s voice blares throughout the property.
Instead of being a spectator, Ault said she wanted to experience the thrill of driving a boat. The first time she got in, she was nervous to the point where she almost lost her breakfast.
“My husband says, ‘Don’t worry about anything, just push down the gas pedal and hold on,’ and that’s what I did,” she said. “The first time I thought my arms were going to rip right out of my body. It was so fast and it was loud.”
She said she did better than anybody anticipated.
Three years in, now Ault loves a good race.
“You leave at the starting line at similar times. Your boats are right there together right down the track. Nobody pulls out in front of somebody else,” she said. “It’s right there until the end.”
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