100+ Years Of Boat Racing On the Niagara
"Thunder On The Niagara" - June 3-4, 2006
By Teddy Linenfelser
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Mike Sceusa and his boat Backlash in 1961. Click for "Mike's Story"
(left) Gene Roesch, with daughter Lenore Roesch Turner and son, Gary working on the "Lost Week End" in July 1962. (right) Gary is driving Frank Reichlin's "Miss Peggy" in the 1970s. Click for "Gary's Story"
(left) Al Brinkman in "Sea Biscuit," 1942 - (right) 1960 photo of "The Gale" owned by Lee Schoeneth and driven by "Wild Bill" Cantrell, both of Detroit
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John Krebs will be driving a new boat for Lauren Malkiewicz in 2006. John has taken 5th in National Modified National Points, 2005 "Skeeter Johnson Memorial National Modified Champion," 2nd in National Modified "Power in the Park" Portsmouth, VA, and 4th in the 2006 National Modified Eastern Divisionals.
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Rollie Radder driving his Susie-J on August 28, 1961.
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The thrill, the noise, the power, the excitement and the carnival atmosphere of yesterday are all part of what "Thunder On The Niagara" is all about and what brings thousands to the Niagara River shores to witness the extremely high-speed hydroplanes on the rough course of the narrow and swift Niagara.
Boat races have been planned and cancelled in recent years with the last races taking place in July 2001 at North Tonawanda's Gratwick Park. However, "Thunder On The Niagara" Hydroplane Races are definitely set to take place this weekend - from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 3-4 at Gratwick Park. General chairman is John Krebs, Commodore of the Niagara Frontier Boat Racing Association.
Cost to get into the park for what should be the best view is a $2 donation to benefit Carly's Club. According to Krebs, racers will include Island residents Greg Barker (Owner - Honey Bun - S-9), Don Less ( Owner - CentsLess 12 - E-600 & CentsLess 14 - E-500), Joe Less (Driver - CentsLess 12 - E-600), Ken Brodie II (Driver - CentLess 14 - E-500), Alan Bush (Owner/Driver Brand New Boat), Lauren Malkiewicz (Owner - Just Crazy E/NM-233), and John Krebs (Driver - Just Crazy E/NM-233). Former Islander, and three-time national champion, Dan Kanfoush, now a resident of Niagara Falls, will also be racing.
A History of Boat Racing on Grand Island, N. Y.
The 100+ years of boat racing on Grand Island has yielded many winners and world champions.
Boat racing off Grand Island, N.Y. goes back to 1905 as the Buffalo Launch Club's fame as a power boat racing club began when the team of George and Harry Elliott won the club's first regatta cup with a spectacular record speed of 18 mph. Races were held over the course of the Buffalo Launch Club on September 8, 1906 and included the combined fleets of the Launch Club and the Motor Boat Club of Buffalo. Click for BLC 1906 Race Story.
Over the next 10 years the Launch Club regattas were an annual Niagara River sporting event, drawing a list of nationally known sportsmen including Edsel Ford, Gar Wood, Dick Locke, Horace Dodge, William J. Connors, Robert Ringling and Harry Greening.
The BLC received a sum of $5000 from the City of Buffalo as an inducement to run the race course past Riverside Park to benefit the general public. There are conflicting reports of what caused the canceling of the city's "grant." One is of a boat careening into the Park shoreline, injuring several people, the withdrawal of the funds and the end of the International Regattas in the mid 1920s. Another report was that the races ended due to the fact that "pleasure cruisers" became the popular boat of choice for many BLC members in the 1920s and were dominating the Club's boating activities.
During the Regatta at the Launch Club in 1922 Horace Dodge with his Baby Holo won the international trophy event with a speed of 64.06 miles per hour.
New in 1927 were the outboard speedsters and Francis Brobeil, driving his K-D-Did won the race at the Buffalo Launch Club regatta. Miss Buffalo lost to the Miss California driven by Dick Lyones of Los Angeles in the 151 division in a field of 10 boats that weekend. And in the BLC regatta of 1929 Brobeil was the winner in Class B and C outboards. The Buffalo International Aquagatta program dated June 1942 referred to the 1930 BLC Regatta as a "one-man show, presented by Fran Brobeil who won all but one heat of outboard hydroplanes and piloted Bob Huntley's Miss Buffalo to a 3-heat win in the 15` Division. Drivers in a regatta at the Sandy Beach Yacht Club in 1941 included famed band leader of the Royal Canadians, Guy Lombardo, driving his Tempo II, and Al Brinkman of Buffalo, N.Y., Canadian National 225 Champion at the time who had not yet moved to Grand Island.
Launch Club Commodore C. Roy Keys put his new hydro-drome through the test in 1928. According to a newspaper report, "the hydro-drome, like an unleashed greyhound, roared into the water, rose majestically on its stilts until the whole bottom of the boat was visible."
A pleasure ban including the operation of power boats took place during the World War II. The exception to this ban was speed boat contests. The Mercury Power Boat Club sponsored a speed boat regatta at the Bedell House on Sunday, June 4, 1944 when racers included Islanders Paddy Fix, Dick Voight and Ollie Howard. The boat races continued every other Sunday off the Bedell House.
The Buffalo Launch Club purchased another 165 feet of riverfront in 1946 and enlarged the basin and dock facilities. Speedboat racing, "sparked by George J. Trimper, former boat racer and world record holder," was revived at the Club in 1947 and drew 25,000 spectators to the Island. These annual international regattas over the Niagara River course put the BLC back in the forefront of major boat racing across the nation. In 1950 and again in 1952, the Buffalo Launch Club became the recipient of the most coveted award, "Outstanding Drivers' Regatta in the World." It was George Trimper and his committee who conducted the regattas for 14 years, drawing the most competitive of the limited and unlimited racing teams. Not once, but two years in a row, the American Power Boat Association pronounced the BLC's international regatta as the best regatta staged on the continent.
The 48-cubic-inch runabouts were the newest class of racing when the BLC's International Regatta was held in August 1950. Joseph Van Blerck Jr. in his reliable "Aljo" won the national championship in the seven liter class when a reported 50,000 people witnessed the Sunday races. Grand Island's Al Endres, driving his "Sour Puss," took a fifth place but it was Guy Lombardo's "Tempo VI" that won the feature event for unlimiteds by nearly a mile. A late afternoon feature was a race for old-timers' speed boats.
The annual two-day regatta off the Buffalo Launch Club in August 1953 was held on the "extended" 2 1/2 mile Niagara River course. The event attracted over 150 entrants, including many national and world champions in competitions for runabouts, hydroplanes and seven-liter boats. Among them were Sherm Crechfield, national champion in the Class E; and former world record holder, Dick Rankin of Pontiac, Michigan in "Hi Ball"; Art Hatch, an outstanding Canadian driver in "Costa Lotta" and "Lotsa Costa"; orchestra leader Guy Lombardo in his Tempo VI; and of course Grand Island, N.Y. champion in his own right, Al Endres who won the National E crown, regaining the title he won at the BLC in 1951.
The boating world was deeply saddened when 29-year-old Al Endres, who won one of several International Regattas off the Buffalo Launch Club in 1953 and then nine days later, after winning again in Maryland, collapsed and died. Click for "Al Endres Feature Story" that includes mentions of his father, Ed Endres, his son Mike Endres, Al's granddaughter, Anne Barker, and her grandfather and father, Ralph Barker and Greg Barker, all involved in boat racing.
Boat racing on the Niagara River continues to be just as popular in recent years as it was in its past. Most recent grand champion boat racers include Bob Catipovic, Greg Barker, Don Less, and former Island resident Ken Brodie II.
Click for "Excerpts In Island Boat Racing History". This page includes participants of all levels of racing including some of the winners and champions who put Grand Island's boat racing on the map.
Many names are missing and you are invited to submit for consideration your name, boat name, years and successes to "email@example.com"