Boat races will return to the Willamette, as will spectators
Editor's note: Organizers of the Memorial Weekend Boat Races announced Thursday that spectators will be allowed to attend the annual event at Rogers Landing. Free parking will be provided at River and 14th streets, as will a free shuttle to the race site. Bleachers will not be allowed this year, so spectators are advised to bring chairs or a blanket on which to sit. Racing starts at 10 a.m. and continues to 7 p.m. each day, and a concession stand will serve a variety of food and drink.
The roar of two-cycle engines will once again befall the Willamette River at month's end as the Memorial Weekend Boat Races return to Newberg after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
Billed as the second-oldest American Powerboat Association in the nation, the event is slated for May 29-30 at Rogers Landing park in Newberg. This year's event marks the 73rd year the races have been held in Newberg. The Newberg Boat Club, which now co-sponsors the race with the Columbia Outboard Racing Association, began formally holding races in 1949, but it's likely unofficial racing started much earlier.
"We have evidence that boat racing was going on at Newberg as early as 1920," Richard Baker, co-race chairman of the Newberg Boat Club, said. At that time racing was a three-day event in conjunction with a city celebration which included a parade, a queen's contest and a ball.
Hosted by the Newberg Boat Club and the Columbia Outboard Racing Association, the tradition began in 1948 with a marathon race from Independence to Newberg on the Willamette. Seventy-three years later the event has changed considerably since as its morphed into a two-day event held Memorial Day weekend and boasting sanctioned races of stock outboards (hydroplanes and runabouts) up to the big draw of the event, the outboard performance craft, otherwise known as tunnel boats, that fly around a three-quarters-of-a-mile course at breakneck speeds.
Closure of the park from 5 p.m. May 28 to midnight on May 30 was approved by the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners.
Baker said the club expects upwards of 120 drivers, who range in age from 8 to 80 years, to participate in the event in 20 to 22 classes.
"The slowest class of boats are the J Stock Hydro boats," Baker said. "These boats are driven by 8- to 12-year-olds and reach speeds up to 45 mph. The fastest boats this year will be the Formula 500 entries, which reach speeds of 80 mph."
The club will also host a North American championship race for the CS Hydro and CS Runabout classes, as well as a national championship for the Formula 500 class. Those racers will have their hands full on a demanding course.
"The Newberg river course is one of the most difficult courses in the nation and draws some of the best drivers in the nation," Baker said. "We have racers that come from all the western states to compete in this event."
For more information about the event, visit the Newberg Boat Club's website at newbergboatclub.org or call Baker at 971-412-0455.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.