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LOCAL BOATING: ‘Thunder’ to roll through Gratwick

By Jay Skurski

True to their word, organizers of the “Thunder on the Niagara” will once again bring hydroplane boat racing to North Tonawanda.

The races, which returned to Gratwick/Riverside Park in NT last year after a five-year hiatus, will once again fill the same spot in the Niagara River this weekend.

Two days of races kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday and run until 6 p.m., with the same schedule to follow Sunday.

“This is something that happens only once a year, so it’s a great chance to come out,” said Grand Island resident Greg Barker, a race committee member.

Competitions will be held in six different classes: the 1.5-liter stocks, 1 liter modifieds, 2.5-liter stocks, 5 liters, Jersey speed skiffs and grand national hydroplanes.

In 2006, overcast skies kept crowd numbers low on the first day, but the second session was packed with spectators. Barker hopes for a similar strong turnout this weekend.

“We’re expecting a bigger crowd,” he said.

The races are put on by the Niagara Frontier Boat Racing Association. Several locals, including Tonawanda resident Darryl Monette, are expected to compete.

With gas prices continuing to rise, Barker said it’s especially nice to have a race close to home.

“We were in northern New Jersey two weeks ago. That’s 720 miles round-trip. At eight miles a gallon, that’s a pretty expensive trip,” he said.

Depending on the class, hydroplane boats can reach 150 mph.

“Seeing the boats come off the start is pretty exciting,” Barker said. “Especially at that first turn, where all you see is water.”

Last year saw slightly less than 40 boats compete. Barker hopes this year’s competition will bring between 50 and 60 competitors.

“We have a joint sanction with a Canadian boating association, so we’re expecting about a dozen boats from the Quebec area.”

A $5 donation per car is requested at the park entrance at Witmer and River roads. Food and refreshments will be available. Alcohol is not permitted on park property.

Contact editor Jay Skurski at 693-1000, ext. 117.