Madison Vintage Thunder

Vintage hydroplane collectors
to put on a show at ‘Thunder’

This year’s exhibition show will charge
a $5 entry fee for costs

(September 2019) – If you miss the roar of the old piston-driven thunder boat hydroplanes charging to the starting line at the Madison Regatta, come down to the Ohio River and relive those pleasant memories at Madison Vintage Thunder. At the same time you can get up close and personal to the owners and drivers of vintage racing boats.
On Sept. 21-22 the annual vintage boat show will be back along the banks of the Madison, Ind., riverfront. Dave Johnson is once again heading up the event as he has done for all of the previous vintage hydro festivals.

Photo provided

Mark Cravens and his wife, Debbie, pose below with another of his vintage hydros, Fool’s Gold.

“We hope to have 30 to 40 boats of various sizes participating this year,” says Johnson.
“Besides the boats that come from the surrounding area, we usually have craft come in from New Hampshire, South Carolina, Canada and as far away as Australia. It’s always a little indefinite on who is going to be here because most of them have raced during the season and keeping their hulls and motors intact is tricky.”
Johnson knows full well the effort and cost of keeping a vintage boat capable of running in these shows. He has several boats and owns a shop on First Street in Madison where friends and relatives help him keep the boats in running order.
The boats will participate in several class events according to their engine size. While this is not a competition event, it does have that feel to it as the boats go around the course together at a good clip of speed. Besides having the typical small, medium, large and unlimited classes, Johnson is hoping to add a new category this year – the outboards.
“We’re really trying to make this a family event,” says Johnson. September is a great time to sit in your lawn chair along the river, and take in the warm rays of the sun.
During the show the public is invited to come tour the pits, look at the boats and even have a picture taken in the cockpit. According to Johnson, “there will be several food vendors parked on Vaughn drive, and just to add something new this year, we will be hosting an antique bike show.”
\For the first time, a $5 admission will be charged for adults, while children 14 and under can enter free. “We have to charge the fee this year because the bill for the cranes used to lift boats in and out of the water is so expensive.”
The show will start around 9:30 a.m. both days. Sometime during the weekend there will be a memorial service for Rick Beatty of Ohio. Beatty, while driving in an exhibition run during this year’s Madison Regatta, was thrown from his vintage boat and died from his injuries. 

Photo provided

Vintage hydroplane race boats are parked in the pit area during a previous year’s Madison Vintage Thunder. The festival gives fans an up close experience with the boats.

A boat owner who is sure to be at the Madison show is Mark Cravens from Bloomington, Ind. Cravens, 64, operates a garage door business. He also owns and drives several of his vintage boats, along with his wife, Debbie, and daughter, Becky. Cravens drove the smaller competition boats for a number of years and at one time was in the running to be the pilot for the unlimited Miss Madison.
After getting out of racing for about 15 years, he got the bug to get back in the boat business.  The first thing was to find an old boat to restore. He found one in Ohio, and the project in his garage that he expected to take a year ended up taking three.
Debbie drives the “Prime Mover,” which can reach 120 mph, and his daughter drives “Fools Gold.” When asked about women driving he said, “it’s no big deal, there are a number of women drivers around the country, and they tend to be as good as their male counter parts.”
He and his family go to eight to 10 events a year. According to Cravens, there are events scattered around the country, and you could participate in one every weekend if desired. And while the boats are not racing, Cravens is very cognizant of the inherent dangers of the sport. The drivers are not belted into the seat, and Cravens said it was a freak accident that took the life of his good friend, Beatty.
Johnson and Cravens and the other drivers would be happy to answer questions about their boats or how to get into the hobby. Just find them in the pits during the vintage weekend.

• For more information you can go to www.5tothe5.com.

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