The Need for Speed

Remote-controlled racers feel
the rush just like the real thing

PropWalkers group to hold districts
race on Madison lake

PropWalkers' District Championship

• 9 a.m. Saturday, June 29, on Krueger Lake inside the Jefferson Proving Ground, Madison, IN
• Information: See the Facebook page for PropWalkers Model Boat Club.

(June 2019) – The thrill of driving his Thunderboat never fails to get the adrenalin flowing through the veins of Don McKay. The two minutes before the start is always one of the most critical moments of the race. McKay and his fellow competitors circle their boats in the middle of the course, while keeping an eye on the countdown clock.
The trick is to have your boat reaching its maximum speed at the starting line just as the countdown clock reaches zero. If you are successful, you just might reach the first turn before anyone else, and you know all your competitors’ eyes will be on you, hoping they can find enough speed to catch you.
While you may be envisioning seeing these boats roaring by you as you stand on the banks of the Ohio, you are actually at Krueger Lake in the Jefferson Proving Grounds, just north of Madison, Ind. And instead of seeing McKay’s body go hurtling by in his boat, you might be standing next to him as he intensely works the remote control of his speeding craft.
Welcome to the sport that few of us have seen up close and personal, the sport of Remote Control Model Boat Racing. While the Unlimiteds that compete at the Madison Regatta in July cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and operate, these boats were probably built by their owners and transported in the trunks of their cars.
Karla Thornton currently serves as president of the PropWalkers Model Boat Club of Jefferson County (Ind.), a group that has close to 25 members. The club sponsors races once a month, May through October, but its main event is the District Championship that this year will take place on June 29 beginning at 9:30 a.m. The district includes all of Indiana and Kentucky. The race usually draws about 75 boats, with most participants entering multiple boats.  

Photo provided

Scott Pierce (right) is shown holding the model of remote control boat Executone, built by Don McKay (left). Pierce drove the full size Unlimited in 1985.

According to Thornton, the race will be at Krueger Lake and will feature 12 classes. There will be two main divisions in model racing: boats powered by nitro and those powered by gas. The nitro boats can reach speeds up to one 100 mph; those powered by gas can reach about 50 mph. Usually the boats are competing for points that are not only used for deciding the day’s championship but also go toward being eligible for the national championship. The championship is scheduled to be held in New York this year.
When asked how she got into model boat racing, Thornton laughingly says that she married into it. Her husband, Chris, has been a long-time boat builder and racer. He has won numerous races locally and around the country. In 2014 he won a national championship that was held in Evansville, Ind., capturing the trophy for the Sport 40 Hydro class.
McKay got into the sport in an entirely different way. After moving to Madison as a high school student, he found himself in a high school shop class taught by Dennis Holt. Holt was known for finding projects that his students would be interested in doing. When he had them building remote boats and then taking them out to race, McKay was hooked for life. After Holt lost his battle with cancer a few years ago, the Krueger district race was named after him.
The club has been a benefit to the community, not only for the entertainment and camaraderie it has provided, but it has given us a nice lake for fishing and picnicking, its members say. Several years ago, when the dam was about to fail, it was through the club’s efforts, along with the park board, that led to raising the funds to repair it.
When asked about the best thing about being in the model boat racing hobby, McKay quickly replied that it was a great family experience. Working together with his son and building the boat in the garage and then all the trips for racing were very important markers for the family for spending time with each other, he added.

“If anyone is interested in this type of pastime, the thing to do is come on out to the Krueger Lake when the boats are running and just talk to the boat owners, “McKay said. “They will be happy to help you get into the sport and might even have some used equipment to help you get started.”

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