Madison Vintage Thunder

Vintage hydroplane race boats
to return to Madison in September

Organizer Johnson and crew
share their love for the sport

Madison Vintage Thunder

• Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 22-23 on the Ohio River in Madison, Ind. Free. Bring lawn chair, coolers.
• Free admission but donations accepted
• (812) 571-0330 or visit www.5tothe5.com

(September 2018) – Several years ago, Dave Johnson of Madison, Ind., got a call to work on the movie, “Madison.” That call changed his life.
“When I came home from Long Beach, I found a boat,” Johnson said. “I started buying them and fixing them up. My first vintage boat was on the river in 2001. I did that with Bill Frisk. It took five years to restore.”
These days, Johnson is in his garage workshop every night with a group of friends restoring old hydroplane boats they have found. Their group, Madison 5-to-the-5, is now busy staging the third annual Madison Vintage Thunder, a free event set for Sept. 22-23 on the Ohio River in Madison, Ind. At the event, Vintage boats will make exhibition runs on the river. And Johnson’s group and others will display their vintage race boats from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the pits open from noon to 1 p.m.
“Going into our third year, we think we will have a better program this year,” Johnson said. “It will be a good show with quality boats. Four will be running from our shop. We have six boats, but two are still under a restoration program.”

Photo courtesy of 5-to-the-5

Vintage hydroplanes are the star attraction of what will be the second annual Madison Vintage Thunder festival, set for the weekend of Sept. 22-23.

“I started working on hydroplanes back in the ’70s,” Johnson said. “I worked on Miss Madison.”
Johnson and his group have lofty goals. They are totally dedicated to putting a museum in Madison. They also provide a training ground for new drivers.
“Trey Holt was in the Miss Madison crew,” said Johnson proudly. “He started with us as a teenager. I have high expectations for Trey. I know some day he will make me proud. He already has.”
The group finds discarded boats in odd places, including one boat sitting in a field in Wisconsin. The discarded boats need a massive amount of restoration before they are ready for the water. The work requires a large crew.
“Nick Lobdell does all the wiring and some of the wood work,” Johnson said.
“Paige Taff owns two of the boats. Rob Holt is president of 5-to-the-5. Chris Burke does all the color matching, and Bernard Kelley helps with the motors.
“Mike Fine is our main driver,” Johnson said. “He and his wife own businesses downtown. Without all these guys, it would be impossible to do this. We have a good organization. I appreciate every one of them.”
Other people come work in the shop, such as Donna Denning who has volunteered for a year.
“I just like to hear the roar of the boats,” Denning said.
There are a variety of boats in the shop.
“Our four-cylinder boats will do 100 mph,” said Johnson. “The eight-cylinder boats will do well over 100 mph.” 
Compared to the current Madison Regatta boats, they are slow. The newer boats are powered by a T55 Lycoming Helicopter engine that can do more than 200 mph.
The Lycoming T55 is a turboshaft engine used on American helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft since the 1950s. It was designed at the Lycoming Turbine Engine Division in Stratford, Conn., as a scaled-up version of the smaller Lycoming T53.
“We have to have it all,” says Johnson. “If we didn’t have racing today, we would have nothing to say for tomorrow. We make history every day.”

Photo courtesy of 5-to-the-5

When they are not running on the Ohio River, the vintage race boats are on display for the public to see during the Madison Vintage Thunder festival.

Johnson continued, “My son is a tool and die maker. He isn’t into hydroplanes yet. It is my son-in-law who is into the boats. I couldn’t do this without him. He makes anything I need, like rudders or skid fins. He is a huge asset for me as I get older. He is a younger guy.”
The 5-to-the-5 group extends to others who do not work in Johnson’s shop.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported our cause,” said Johnson. “We get stuff and money in the mail nearly every day.”
Thanks to outside support, they have driver uniforms and propellers.
“Billy Cousin’s family was a big help,” Johnson said. “When he passed away, his wife, Betty Cousins, gave us all his propellers to sell.” Cousins resided in Trimble County and drove and collected vintage race boats.
One member of the group is Ron Snyder, who has driven Miss Madison and Miss Budweiser.
“I have done as much as a crazy guy can take in his mid ’50,” said Snyder. “I started driving for everyone else and left town to pay the bills.”
Other boats in the 5-to-the-5 family are Helter Skelter, a heavy boat that reaches 150 mph but is heavy duty. Another one of Johnson’s boats is My Fantasy Gal. It was built by George Davis and Charlie Green.
“They ran it until 1966, then it sat unused in a field for 40 years,” Johnson said. “It needs a complete rebuild.”

Johnson is quick to make the point that this is an exhibition, not a race. But the 5-to-the-5 event will be lots of fun and allow people an up-close look at the vintage boats that became the Regatta.

Back to September 2018 Articles.



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