Before the races of the Augusta Southern Nationals began, the event opened its boats and drivers to the public in an event tailored to draw interest and exposure.
Despite a passing rain shower Friday, fans and those curious about drag boat racing took advantage of a night on which drivers and crew members lined Augusta Common with their boats at the Night of Fire.
Drivers shared stories of past races with fellow competitors as fans listened, and interested patrons walked along the boats asking questions about engine power, speed and how they manage to stay on the water.
“A lot of these events are at the race courses themselves, so fans have to pay to be a part of them,” said pro-modified racer Travis Tutle. “But here everybody can come and get up close. You can learn a lot, and it’s a way to get people more enthused in the sport.”
The highlight of the event was the firing of the engines, as drivers cranked their powerful boats and allowed the sound to resonate throughout the common.
The drivers are accessible during such events, giving fans a chance to gain more knowledge of a sport that holds its richest race on the Savannah River in Augusta.
As pro-modified racer Casey Beal explained to a fan the details of driving a drag boat and what needs to be done to prepare for the race, a child crawled into the driver’s seat and smiled.
“A lot of times we’re busy, so this is a good chance for kids and fans to come out and see how they work,” Beal said.
The Augusta Southern Nationals is in its 27th year, and this year’s event is expected to have more boats in the top four classes. The number of expected participants in the top fuel hydro, the most powerful class, jumped to six this year, according to the most recent list of expected racers.
“This is my first time in Augusta, but I can tell the quality of the competition exceeds that of other races,” Beal said. “They have the best of each class here, and the expectations are pretty high.”