‘Everyone comes to this boat race’
LOCKPORT — The coach is here, let the boat racing begin.
Pete Nichols of Newport, N.H. and his son Howie of Cocoa, Fla. are the first speed boat racers this year to make Lockport Boat Launch Park their temporary home for the Jaycees Labor Day Regatta.
Howie is president of the American Power Boat Association (APBA), and is part of a family that includes four generations of racers.
Both Pete and Howie will rev up their boats this weekend in the Susquehanna River, racing in the A class.
They are also delivering a boat to someone they will meet at this, an iconic annual race on the APBA schedule.
This is the 48th year the Lock Haven Jaycees will host the regatta, and weekend events include the Northeast Divisional Championships on Saturday and the 850 modified National Championships on Sunday.
The APBA also is offering a racing school on Friday.
The father and son have come here every year for decades, Pete said, except for a few years after he moved to Florida. He’s living in New England again, and he and Howie have fallen back into the Lock Haven habit for the third year in a row.
Pete’s nickname is Coach, and he has the word emblazoned on his black and purple runabout.
He’s been racing the little speed boats since 1962.
His own father raced, both his sons have taken up the sport, and Howie’s daughter has become the fourth generation to take up the sport. She has just graduated from college and started a new job, so she won’t be joining her father and grandfather this weekend. (Sometimes life gets in the way, as Pete said.)
Meanwhile, Pete and Howie have been on the racing circuit this summer. They’ve just come from an APBA event in Dayton, Ohio and will be in Maine next week, Pete said.
He remembers the days when he brought his family and his speed boat to Lockport in the 1980s, when they camped across Route 664 from the river. The park hadn’t even been built at that time, he recalled.
Now they set up their “camp” in a motor home, complete with golden retriever Annie and secure trailers for their multiple boats.
“This is a nice park,” Pete said. “A lot of people use it, especially after 5 p.m. when the kayakers come out.”
But it’s speed boat racing that calls to the Nichols family.
“It’s a disease,” he said, laughing. “We haven’t found a cure!”
Across the parking lot is an R.V. driven by Chris and Jill Hannold of Walworth, N.Y., near Rochester. They were the second racing-related family to arrive at the park this year and are traveling with their two little girls, Melissa, age 3, and Brooke, 1.
None of them will race this weekend, but they are looking forward to the arrival of Jill’s father, Jerry Davids of Newport News, Va., who has raced for 40 years and has been named to the APBA Hall of Champions three times.
Jill herself raced and was the fifth generation of her family to do so.
The sixth generation is represented by her nephews who will join their grandfather on the water this weekend.
Will Melissa and Brooke race when they reach age 9 and are officially old enough to enter?
“I don’t think I have a choice,” Jill said with a wry smile. “I’m pretty sure my whole family was born with racing fuel in their veins.”
She asks Melissa, “Do you want to race boats?” The answer is, “Yeah-yah.”
Jill casts a practiced eye on the river. Lock Haven is celebrated for its flat, consistent stretch of racing water, she said, but today, the river is the choppiest she can remember. Even though it doesn’t look ideal, she said, “I love how clear the water is. You can see right to the bottom.”
And a little choppiness won’t discourage her father or nephews.
“It’s such a family thing,” she said “We come to this boat race every year. Everyone knows Lock Haven. Everyone calls it ‘the nationals after the nationals.’ It a highlight race of the year.”
She has missed only one year in the past 15, she said. Two of her racing friends were attendants in her wedding, and one of her baby showers was held here, she said.
“Everyone has the same or similar stories,” she added.
“Everyone, everyone comes to this boat race.”