Spectators sprawled on the grass above the beach intently and listened to the announcer explaining the rules and techniques of American Power Boat Association (APBA) racing. Powerboat racing began in the Reno-Sparks area in 1963 when enthusiasts would gather at Paradise Pond, formerly Teglia Pond — near the drive-in movie theater in Sparks — for the Governor’s Cup, which remained there until the 1980s when the pond was restructured. After more than a 20-year absence, boaters launched their watercraft Saturday morning for hydroplane racing, sponsored by the Northern California Outboard Association and the East Bay Boat Club.
“This is great because the crowds can watch. This is probably the biggest crowd this year on the West Coast for a venue like this,” event organizer Craig Williams said. After recognizing the potential for boat racing at the Marina, Williams brought the idea to Sparks City Council members, who then turned it over to the Parks and Recreation Department.
Planning began in early spring to collect sponsors and find racers to attend the event. Williams, a former racer, was able to get an APBA director to the Sparks Marina to survey the venue prior to arranging a date for the event.
“When he looked at the site he said, ‘if I could start with a blank piece of paper, this (area) is what I would want.’”
Williams’ son Brett began taking after his father last year when the two began building a boat for him to compete with. The 15-year-old won his first heat of the year Saturday competing in the Modified Outboard class. The Galena High sophomore has traveled to Oregon and Washington for races and said a degree of home-field advantage benefits him in Sparks.
“I’m lucky be here and have my family here to support me,” he said. “That was my first win in any heat so that was great to be able to share that experience with my family.”
Brett said the amount of space the marina provides makes for a more difficult racing course. Normally, racers navigate an oval course for several laps (depending on class), but in Sparks they maneuver a triangular course built to utilize space. Drivers handle one more turn and are competing at a much higher altitude than usual, which racers say affects factors like the type of propeller being used and the amount of air being let into the engine.
Even with the adjustments needed, Brett said he prefers competing in a place like the marina for the crowds and environment, while venues in Washington, for instance, provide him opportunity to gain experience.
“I don’t go up there expecting to win because a lot of those guys are the best in the country. I just go up there to have fun and try to do my best. It’s a lot different than last year because here we have so many spectators. I have never seen so many spectators at a race,” he said. “Normally we race on lakes in small towns outside of cities. Normally people don’t hear about them or ever come out except for those who know about boat racing. So this is a good turnout for this event.”
Brett said members of Sparks Parks and Rec. were encouraging he and his father to organize the event to bring more people out to the Marina during the summer. They hope to offer the same event next year at an earlier date in order to bring in more professional racers. The Williams family believes the Marina could become an annual tour stop in the future.
“It’s a great thing to be able to have these events in the cities but we need support from the community and it is great to see everybody out here smiling and having a good time,” Brett said.