The region’s noisiest spectator sport returns for the 27th year this weekend as boaters from across the U.S. converge for the Augusta Southern Nationals dragboat races.
This year’s events include the traditional “test and tune day” Friday, July 20, followed by the “Night of Fire” demonstration beginning at 7 p.m. at Augusta Common.
Qualifying races will be held Saturday, July 21, followed by final elimination rounds on Sunday, July 22.
The event, which requires almost year-round preparation and about 500 volunteers, also has a new naming sponsor this year – Windsor Jewelers – and a reorganized schedule designed to ensure that at least six of the top fuel hydro boats are present at each sanctioned event, said race chairman Dayton Sherrouse.
“Last year, just two of the top fuel boats were here,” he said, referring to the fastest and most crowd-pleasing contenders. “This year, they have worked with the top fuel drivers for all the major races to make sure there are six top fuel boats at each one.”
The number of boats in other categories is also up this year, with as many as 100 racers expected to compete along a quarter-mile stretch of the Savannah River.
This year’s race also has a somber side. The Augusta Race Committee has dedicated the event to “Rocket” Ron Braaksma, who died last year.
His top fuel Madness boat was a perennial delight to spectators, winning titles in 1990, 1992 and 1994, according to a tribute in the 2012 race program.
“He is missed by everyone in the sport but we all can remember that great smile, the excitement he generated at the race and, most importantly, his contributions that advanced the sport will always be remembered,” the tribute says.
Series tickets for all three days are $22 in advance and $30 at the gate, or $18 for single-day admission at the gate Saturday and Sunday.
Patron badges that include extra amenities and access on all days are $60 in advance and $70 at the gate. Children 10 and under are admitted free with an adult. Gate admission to Friday’s test and tune event is $5 for anyone without a series or patrons badge.
The event’s main beneficiary is the Georgia Special Olympics.
Tickets can be purchased at Windsor Jewelers, Georgia Bank and Trust, Four Seasons or from race committee members; or through tixonline.com.