Like peanut butter and jelly, IJSBA’s Region 5 (TXH2O Racing) & Region 9 (NautiWater Racing) came together to create something totally sweet! With summer in full swing, racers and freestylers from all around the country gathered on the sandy, red shores of Keystone Lake in Mannford, Oklahoma on August 12th-13th 2017. This event was the season finale for each IJSBA sanctioned region where racers packed start lines to clench regional titles and take advantage of their last chance to race locally before World Finals in early October. Age groups ranged from pre-teens to racers in their 70s. Ski classes from Vintage X2s, Stand-ups, Runabouts, Modified and Stock to Freestyle.
Grassroots racing has made a resurgence with the availability of modern race-ready technology in both sit down and stand up personal watercraft. Competitors drove in from Colorado, Texas, Idaho and other states to the beautiful venue at Akdar Park, less than 30 miles from Tulsa, Oklahoma. PWC racing is not only about competition, but family friendly fun and giving back to the community. Attendees could donate to the Shriners’ cause as well as purchase award-winning BBQ and concessions on-site. The city of Mannford was welcoming to local and long-distance racers alike looking for a place to stay, eat and shop.
Saturday morning brought cloudy skies and drizzle as racers finished registration, but the dreary weather did not dull anyone’s spirits. On the contrary, the cooler temperatures were a welcome companion over sweltering summer heat. Family, friends and spectators lined the beach huddled under umbrellas and tents to cheer on the competitors giving it their all out on the water. Sunday had the sun chasing away clouds for a spectacular view of Keystone Lake beyond the race course. Course designer Ben Swanson created one of the most well-engineered tracks of the season, some said comparable even to the renowned World Finals course on Lake Havasu. It was impressive with long straights, high speed sweepers and a tight split section that challenged even seasoned competitors.
There was fierce competition in all classes, each day kicked off with Amateur Ski Limited with big names in the ski community like regional heroes such as Clayton Lobue and Brian Smith to battle it out on the water. The following races included both stand up and Runabout Stock, Lites, Vintage and Open classes. Gregg Stolfa, age 74, enjoyed the rush of racing on his Yamaha WaveBlaster in the 2-stroke Runabout class. Vintage X2 brought out husband and wife competitors Lauri and Danny Ortega to show the crowd some incredible corner-carving skills. Vintage Ski 550 was another packed start line and TXH2O Racing promoter Tim Hutchison’s class of choice.
Riders such as Ryan Smith and John Hecox fought to hold on the brutal NA and supercharged runabouts as they maneuvered around the chop at blazing fast speeds. Sport GP and Ski Open were crowd favorites as these machines filled the air with the smell of race gas. The beautifully modified Yamaha WaveBlaster 1s dominated in the sport class and aftermarket manufactured hulls like the ProForce and Bullett battled with Kawasaki’s new SX-R in the Ski Open class. These competitors had to ride the most laps at the fastest speeds, no small feat for body, mind and equipment. Top finishing riders in the Ski Open classes like Tim Warner chose to compete with two stroke powered aftermarket hulls whereas Tim Miller and others finished well on their new Kawasaki SX-Rs.
Stock and Lites proved competitive racing did not require expensive modifications. Riders Christopher Cowan on an older model two stroke Kawasaki SX-R and course designer Ben Swanson on a Yamaha Superjet placed in the top of their classes. Like a game of chess, Stock and Lites highlighted racer skill and good line choice through the buoys. Those facts proved winning was more about the rider than the equipment. The midday show brought us freestyle competitor Taylor Kress on his square nose SuperJet livery DVX as he flipped high into the air for the cheering crowd. In the Junior Ski classes, we witnessed the first generation of racers born from racers. Brynton Handshy in 10-12 Ski Lites and Haigen Smith in 13-15 Ski Lites finished at the top to make both their parents and the ski community proud. They were excited to receive awards ranging from plaques to custom graphics kits for their efforts in this 2017 season. Junior racers are the future of our sport, and if all events turn out as great as this one – watercraft competition has a bright one.
Camaraderie of father and son, of husband and wife, riding bumper to bumper together to share a love of watercraft was one of the most special parts of TXH2O and NautiWater racing’s partnership for this event. After the competition, each region held an awards ceremony on a cliff overlooking the lake with friends and family gathered. The evening sun setting on the campground as awards and congratulations were given was a fitting end to an epic weekend of watercraft racing.
Massive thanks go out to the Shriners and city of Mannford for a beautiful race site and community support over the weekend. Much appreciation for all the hard work and time TXH2O Racing event promoters Tim and Marisa Hutchison and Heath and Hunter Hoekstra in addition to NautiWater Racing promoter Terry Hiebert put in to create such amazing regional events. Also cannot forget photographer Brandy Fraley for toughing out the heat and rain to capture incredible images of the competition for both regions as well as all the volunteers who helped set up and tear down each event. You can visit TXH2O Racing’s website and NautiWater’s website for final results of the event and season.