In the end, there were few left on the course. Of the 42 machines lining the edge of Lake Havasu below the Crazy Horse Campground a mere five hours earlier, only half a dozen still cut around the wide-spread buoys that dotted the smooth, calm waters of the lake.
“The Hahn is a game of attrition.” I heard that phrase a dozen times since arriving in Lake Havasu City a week earlier to cover the 15th annual – and possibly the final – Mark Hahn Memorial Havasu 300 race. It is one of a dozen or more catchphrases that get pinned on this iconic endurance race.
“The Toughest race around”; “You can’t win in the pits, but you can lose in the pits”; or, conversely, “The only race that’s won or lost in the pits”; and “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
The list goes on. And you’ll hear them again and again, in one form or another. No one will take credit for them, they’re all taglines that have been around since long before some of these racers even knew about this lake, much less this race.
But this year, the game of attrition was a high-stakes game. The calm waters made for fast racing, and – according to several of the racers – blown engines.
“When it’s choppy out, you’re on and off the throttle, and the engine gets to breathe,” I heard one of the racers explain. “When it’s smooth like this, your instinct is to keep it pinned, and that can burn through an engine pretty damn quick.”
And sure enough, each of the 30 ten-mile laps saw yet more skis – both standups and runabouts – fall to the wayside. Some pouring smoke from under the hood, others sputtering and dying far from shore, making the final stretch to the beach on a gaff.
But strangely enough, few of those whose skis now sat cold and quiet at the water’s edge, packed up their gear and left. They gathered on the shoreline, watching and cheering on what were, a few minutes before, fierce competitors. A few even pitched in, helping the pit crews of the racers that, laps before, they had battled against.
The sportsmanship and camaraderie that highlighted the legacy of the Hahn – and the man that it memorializes – in no way curtails the intensity of the competition, however, and there was little doubt on the shoreline of the seriousness of these racers and their pit crews as they fought their way around mechanical issues, exhaustion and other racers. The teams this year – a promising high-count considering the drop in attendance in recent years (and hopefully not a case of too-little-too-late) – was a mixed bag.
First-timers and former champions, mother-son teams, husband-and-wife competing against each other, pit-crew sisters and dads; racing legends and racing up-and-comers partnering up, and racers who normally compete head-to-head, teaming up.
Renee Hill, who teamed up with her son Tyler to take on the rigors of the Hahn, and was one of the few teams to remain on the course until the last few laps, said she is hopeful that enough people will pledge to race next year to keep the race alive.
“I do think it should be ran next year but there needs to be enough people to sign up,” said Hill, “The Mark Hahn 300 is a test of endurance for not only the rider but the boat and the pit team. All three need to work together in harmony to achieve a successful outcome. I love teaming up with my son showing that this race is for both the old and the young racers. You’re only as old as you feel!”
“The Mark Hahn Memorial 300 is one of the most amazing races I’ve ever attended,” said Jimmy Roberts, who put in his first Hahn appearance this year. “And I’ll attend it again if they have it! After taking off in second place and running 40 miles with one of the world’s best Hahn racers – Team Pastorello – made it even more intense! Although we didn’t get to finish the race due to a engine failure, we know what we are gonna build for next year and the same crew is coming back for it!”
And in the midst of this eclectic selection of teams, stood one iron man – one that deserves a story all his own, but I will compromise with a short kudos to a young racer who not only finished the race, won his class, and took 11th overall, and did it solo – but he stopped in mid-race to lend assistance to another racer. Pure class. Kole Cramer. The words kinda go together now.
By end the of the race, major players were out – Pastorello, as mentioned, suffered engine failure; so had Klippenstein and partner Brian Baldwin; handing the lead position to Mark Gerner and partner Juan Francisco San Martin aboard their Kawasaki 310R. The combination of wide-open racing and lightning-fast 49-second pit stops earned the PWC Offshore duo a blistering 3-lap lead.
“Going in to the final 3rd turn on the 30th lap – with only a few minutes to the finish line,” Gerner told The Watercraft Journal, “…the Kawasaki experienced a mechanical and went down. Do you understand what I’m saying? It died on the last turn buoy of the last lap. It was like some cruel joke…”
Gerner was gratefully towed in, but not before the Broward Motorsports Yamaha FX Cruiser SVHO piloted by Chris MacClugage and Troy Snyder completed the 30th lap, earning them the overall win, and returning the championship to the ‘States as well as to Yamaha, like Follmer and partner Billy Womack had done 15 years earlier.
With increasing costs and decreasing participation making each year a bigger hurdle to clear for race organizers, the 2019 Mark Hahn Memorial Havasu 300 was billed as the final go-around for the iconic endurance race. However, with the vocal racer outcry against the ending of such a well-loved and challenging race, combined with the dedication and passion of event founder, Mike Follmer and others, Ross Wallach and Jim Russell, there is a strong possibility the race will live on.
“It’s all in the racers’ hands,” Follmer said at the awards ceremony following this year’s race. “If we can get 42 or more racers to sign up for next year, we’ll do what it takes.”
Many of those who attended this year’s race were quick to sign on for a 2020 Mark Hahn.“Based on the response that we got, I would say there’s a better than 70% chance that we hold the event next year if the racers continue to commit to wanting the event to continue,” Wallach told The Watercraft Journal. We hope it happens.
Top finishers: 1st: Chris MacClugage, Troy Snyder; 2nd: Mark Gerner, Juan Francisco San Martin; 3rd: Dennis Mack, Eric Francis; By Class: 4SMU: Kole Cramer; 4SNA: Andreas Kubatzki, Craig Kelling; 4SS: Chris MacClugage, Troy Snyder; MS: Dennis Mack, Eric Francis; PA4: Enrique Martinez Gamiz, Javier Severi; S2SU: Steven LePrauhan, Tyler Kowalkski, Mike Demauro; VMO: Louis Nguyen, Jack Chang