Originally created 06/27/99

Braaksma ready to return after a three-year absence



"Rocket" Ron Braaksma, still the fastest man on the Savannah River at 230.17 miles per hour, returns to Augusta after a three-year absence to compete in the 14th annual Augusta Southern National drag boat races July 16-18.

The races will take place at Augusta Riverfront Marina on Prep Phillips Drive.

Braaksma, from San Bernardino, Calif., literally burst onto the Augusta scene in 1990. His first quarter-mile pass of 217.86-mph in his top fuel hydro Madness eclipsed the river record of 215.82 mph set in the inaugural (1986) Augusta Southern Nationals by Jerry Fulgham of La Mirada, Calif., in his Hillbilly.

Braaksma went on to post speeds of 220.21, 220.91 and 222.11 mph in the 1990 races. Two years later, the Californian roared to 227.10 mph.

Then he left the 1994 drag boat crowd gasping with his 230-mph-plus run, breaking his own Augusta elapsed time mark of 5.18 seconds set in 1990 with a 5.05.

This year at Red Bluff, Calif., Braaksma steered his new Madness to passes of 210 and 225 mph in the International Hot Boat Association's Nitro Nationals.

"The way this boat ran at Red Bluff, that 230's going bye-bye," Braaksma said. "It (the boat) didn't break a sweat and neither did I. I'm not planning to race in Waco, Texas (over the July 4 weekend), just coming straight to Augusta."

Braaksma, 38, who has been drag boat racing for nearly 20 years, admits that Augusta will feature "one of the toughest fields of fuel boats around. Everybody's running well."

The field includes Kyle Walker of Houston, fresh out of a short (1-year-plus) retirement and again driving the Spirit of Texas; Lou Osman of St. Louis in Speed Sport Special; Augusta newcomer Bill Cooper of California with his Rapid Package and driver Gary Kincaid; Karl Petrik of Aurora, Ohio with his Kebin Kinsley-driven Sundown; Roger Way of Mooresville, N.C., with his Roger Way Racing boat and driver Charlie Fegan; Joe Reinhardt of Charlotte, N.C., in Whadda Hoot and Frank Moody with his X-Factor.

"My boat hasn't been in the water in two years," said Way, who has gotten involved in a top fuel dragster in International Hot Rod Association racing.

Tim Stokes of Eufaula, Okla., returns to defend his top alcohol hydro title in Widowmaker, but he'll have to fly over Tom Wright's Cuckoo's Nest, an standout driver from the West Coast new on Georgia waters. Sam Shaeffer also returns, giving the Augusta field the nation's top three alcohol boats, each capable of running more than 220 mph. Also returning after a year's absence is crusty Bob Pizza in What A Tomato.

The Augusta Southern Nationals benefit the Area 9 chapter of the Georgia Special Olympics, which collected $10,000 last year.

"We've contributed more than $75,000 over the 10 years we've supported the group," said Jeff Banks, the races' executive chairman. Robert Brown is chairman.

Southern Nationals info

What: 14th Augusta Southern Nationals

When: July 16-18 on the Savannah River at Augusta Riverfront Marina

Advance Tickets: $18 (for two-day series -- Friday is free).

Patron badges: $50.

Ticket Sources: Smile Gas Stations, Georgia Bank & Trust, Pump-'n-Shop, Holton Marine.

At the gate: $25 (for two-day series). Saturday, July 17: $15. Sunday, July 18: $15.

Web: www.augsouthernnationals.com