Annual Memorial Day boat races poised for this weekend at Rogers Landing in Newberg

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - All manner of boats will play the Willamette River this weekend during the annual boat races.

The Newberg Boat Club and the Columbia Outboard Racing Association will host this year's Memorial Day boat races from 11 a.m. to 6:30 Saturday and Sunday at Rogers Landing.

Onlookers can experience the sights, sounds and smells of a multitude of race classifications as the event celebrates its 70th year, making it the second oldest continuous annual outboard race in the country.

Boat races in Newberg go back to the 1920s. For years, a small trophy that read, "Second Prize Class A Handicap Newberg Regatta, June 4-5-6, 1920" was passed from member to member, but later was forgotten. It resurfaced in 2014 and that led the boat club to do some research. They discovered that in the 1920s the race featured a parade, a queen's coronation and a ball.

The speed of the competitors has definitely increased since those days.

"On Saturday we are having the North American championships for Class C and on Sunday we are having a North American championships for 45s's," race chairman Don Schmidt said. "It is an extremely competitive ... tunnel boat class that does about 80 mph on our course."

The event brings in some big names in the sport, including Kyle Ball and Kyle Lewis, both past national champions. Jay Michael Kelly, who has won five national championships in different classes, will be on hand.

Eighty-five to 100 race entries are expected to compete in more than 20 classifications from five western states and Canada. Entrants range from the age of 9 to more than 60, including those in the J Class (junior) with participants from 8 to 15 years old.

"The racers go on a three-minute gun; they have three minutes to get their boats ready and jockey to get into position to get into the race. It is a flying start," Schmidt said. "Most of the races, except for the tunnel boats, are three laps."

There are usually three flights of races each day, with a short intermission between each flight. During the first intermission on Sunday, there will be memorial ceremony, including the laying of a wreath on the water, an inspirational reading and a 21-gun salute by the local VFW post.

Grandstands are erected mid-course for spectators, allowing them to see the race from buoy to buoy.

"The tightest turn on circuit is on turn two and is the hardest turn to make in the United States," Schmidt said.

The start line is at the end of the facility's dock and the boats race upstream to turn one, then downstream to turn two. The turns are marked by course buoys; if a driver goes beyond them, they are disqualified. The drivers are also penalized if they damage or dislodge any of the buoys.

The challenge of Newberg's course is that the competitors are accustomed to racing on calm lakes. Whereas, the Willamette River has a current that can be quite strong.

Rogers Landing is closed to traffic starting at 5 p.m. Friday, although there is a shuttle that collects people at a parking lot at the top of the hill on Saturday and Sunday. Parking and the shuttle are free and supervised by a troop of local Boy Scouts.

For more information, visit the boat club's website at

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