Powerboat races return to Lake Koshkonong

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, September 19, 2013

NEWVILLE—It's getting late in the year for the usual buzz and whine of squadrons of personal watercraft and ski boats on Lake Koshkonong. But that doesn't mean the lake near Newville will be quiet this weekend.

For the first time since the 1950s, nationally sanctioned powerboat racing is returning to Lake Koshkonong.

Organizers for the Badger State Outboard Association, an affiliate of the American Power Boat Association, say they're bringing in more than 60 hydroplane powerboat racers from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan for races at the lake all day Saturday and Sunday.

Spectators can watch the races from the water or for free from seats along the beach at Lakeview Bar and Campground, where the race's one-mile, oval-shaped watercourse will be buoyed off. 

The course's “hot pit,” a starting line, which boat racers cross at speeds up to 85 miles per hour, will be on the water right in front of the beach, organizers said.

If you're new to hydroplane powerboat racing, Badger State Outboard Association boat-racer Ryan Burdick says you'll see:

- Racers kneeling in the single, open cockpits of low-slung, fiberglass boats which measure 9 to 13 feet long.

- Boats that look similar to wheel-less Indy-style race cars with small, modified outboard motors flying around the watercourse at full speed. At any given time, just 4 to 6 inches of the back ends of the watercrafts contact the water. They literally hydroplane.

- Racers using their own weight and body English to maneuver the boats around turns and over wave chop amid a field of powerboats buzzing along, just a foot or two from each other.    

“In these little boats, it feels like you're doing well over 100 and to the spectator it looks just as fast. It's exhilarating,” Burdick said.

 A commercial jet pilot from Delavan, the 33-year-old Burdick has been racing boats since he was eight years old and is racing this weekend at the lake. The races Saturday and Sunday, include age classes for youths to adults in their 60s, Burdick said.

The event, which organizers say will wrap up the national powerboat-racing season, could become an annual season finale boat race at the lake and a new, late-season draw for lake tourists.

“The business association is making an effort to extend the tourism season later into the fall. We want to give people something more to do, to keep coming back,” said Jim Bowers, a race organizer for one of its sponsors, the Rock-Koshkonong Business Association.

“When you have a year like this, when it was so cold and wet in the spring and early summer—the lake tourism industry, the businesses, they really need a draw. That's what these late-season events are about,” Bowers said. 

For years, the lake had powerboat races at Newville. Boats would race on a course that passed underneath the low-hanging Highway 59 Bridge. Jerry Richardson, a manager at Harbor Recreation at Newville, said the races stopped because it was too dangerous to have boats flying beneath the bridge.

Bowers said the lake's business association approached the Badger State Outboard Association, which used to race on the Rock River near downtown Beloit, and negotiated the group wanted to hold its season-ending race at Lake Koshkonong.

Lake Koshkonong has a reputation for being unpredictable. A north wind can whip up whitecaps on the lake in a hurry. Organizers said they chose a spot for the race's watercourse that's relatively protected from wind by a ridge and has a relatively low amount of wave- producing boat traffic.  

The forecast calls for sunny weather in the 70s with light winds this weekend. Bowers said organizers and racers will just have to wait and see how the lake responds.

“This year is a test run, so we'll see how well it works. Hopefully, we can turn the lake into the spot for this an annual event—just keep it coming back, and keep those tourists coming back,” Bowers said.

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