After high water forced the cancellation of last year’s Augusta Southern Nationals, the annual drag-race boat tournament returns this weekend to Augusta.
The event – scheduled today through Sunday – is expected to attract 100 boats from across the country and bring an estimated $2 million to the local economy.
“Prior to 2013, we hosted this tournament for 27 straight years,” said Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority.
“With the conditions no longer dangerous, we’re excited to get back on track. Not only does this event help boost our economy, but it also generates national attention for Augusta. This is the only major drag-race tournament held east of the Mississippi River.”
The event, which annually takes place the third weekend of July, begins with noncompetitive testing and a “Night of Fire” at Augusta Common. Saturday is qualifying, while Sunday concludes the event with the drag-race finals.
“We’re expecting a great turnout this weekend,” Sherrouse said. “Because of the recession, we only had about 65 boats enter the competition in 2011 and 2012, but we’re expecting close to 100 from 25 different states this year.”
Tickets – available at Augusta Riverfront Marina – cost $5 for today, $18 for Saturday and $18 for Sunday.
Series badges are available for $30.
“I’ve volunteered all 28 years and there’s no question that Southern Nationals is a wonderful Augusta tradition,” Sherrouse said. “We work year-round preparing for this event and it’s something we take pride in hosting.”
The tournament has 500 volunteer employees and costs $250,000 to put on. Most of the money is raised through corporate sponsors, Sherrouse said.
“It’s a yearlong effort to get ready for this weekend,” Sherrouse said. “Once the tournament ends Sunday, we’ll start preparing for 2015.”
Proceeds from the event go to the local chapter of the Georgia Special Olympics. Sherrouse said the contribution creates a ripple effect for Augusta.
“They use that money to bring events in like the Special Olympics at Fort Gordon,” he said. “That money is again used to bring money back to Augusta.”
Staff writer David Lee contributed to this article.