Lake Koshkonong speedboat race is 'all about memories' for 65-year-old competitor

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Andrea Behling
Thursday, September 18, 2014

EDGERTON—It was 47 years since Fred Falk had last skimmed across the water in a hydroplane.

Now age 65, he's firing up the 25 Super Stock Hydro Mercury motor of his speedboat to pay tribute to a childhood friend.

In memory of his friend Gary Burdick, Falk plans to race a hydroplane that once belonged to Burdick in this weekend's powerboat races on Lake Koshkonong.

“One of my friends said, 'Freddy, the only two things that'll smarten you up are fear and common sense,'” Falk said.

As teenagers in the 1960s, Falk, Burdick and their buddies zipped around Lake Koshkonong in speedboats, which were capable of reaching 70 mph.

“It was just all about fun. We didn't race in those days. It was like a pickup game of basketball,” Falk said.

The boys went their separate ways after high school, and speedboating became a memory for Falk.

That wasn't the case for Burdick, who picked up the hobby again with his son in the late 1980s.

Burdick and his son, Ryan Burdick, became avid speedboat racers, hitting nearly every race in the area at one point in time, Ryan said.

Ryan, who started competing at age 9, went on to become national champion in multiple racing categories and only recently stopped competing, he said.

Racing was something Ryan loved doing with his father, who died in 2010.

As a spectator, Falk bumped into the two at competitions through the years, and said he felt an itch to get back on the water.

In 2013, Falk ran into Ryan at a race, and Falk asked how many boats he still had.

“I said, 'If you're willing to part with one of your dad's boats, I'd love to have it. I'd keep it on the lake, just for sentimental reasons,'” Falk said.

Soon enough, Gary's blue, three-point hydroplane was back on the banks of Lake Koshkonong, ready to be raced by Falk one last time.

“I can't think of a whole lot better person to get going in Dad's old rig than someone he knew,” Ryan said.

Not having knelt in a speedboat since his teen years, Falk said he didn't remember them being so fast.

“Once this thing catches, it's like a rocket. I don't have any recollection of that,” Falk said.

He's been out on the lake a half dozen times to prepare for the American Powerboat Association race, put on by the Badger State Outboard Association, the Rock Koshkonong Business Association and Lakeview Campground.

Using an empty bleach bottle tethered to a cinderblock as a buoy, Falk practiced his turns on Lake Koshkonong. He's gone out in the morning when the water is calm because the 170-pound boat doesn't tolerate waves and wind, Falk said.

His friends and family think he's crazy for racing, Falk said.

“They're probably right,” he said.

Falk knows the risks. He could be racing alongside up to 11 boats on a mile-long track.

Collisions can occur, he said. Once the group has done a lap, the water gets choppy, and you lose stability, he said.

As the boat reaches top speed, it barely touches the water and can easily flip, he said.

“What I'm going to suggest is that everybody just give me a lot of clearance. I'm not in it for the points,” Falk said.

The sport knows no age limit, Ryan said.

“Some of the toughest competitors are steely-eyed veterans that have been around forever. They still make me feel like a rookie,” Ryan said.

There's one competitor who plans to race this weekend who is 74 years old, said Kip Trump, board member of the Badger State Outboard Association.

This is the second year a race has been held on Lake Koshkonong. The competition will be all day Saturday and Sunday in front of Lakeview Campground and Bar, 1901 E. Highway 59, Milton.

Last year, 96 boats entered to race, said Jim Bowers, president of the Rock Koshkonong Business Association.

Coordinators are hoping for better weather than last year's race, which took place in high winds and thunderstorms.

“The water was terrible,” Trump said.

Eight to 10 boats flipped or spun out during the race, Trump said.

Some of the outboard hydroplanes can reach speeds up to 90 mph, Trump said.

Falk's boat, which still has Burdick's old number, 20W, can reach up to about 70 mph, Falk said.

Spectators won't see him going that fast this weekend, he said.

“This is all about memories. I just thought this would be a fun thing to do to get Gary's boat out once more in a race,” Falk said.

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