The class of competitors expected to be the best was below par during qualifying at the Augusta Southern National drag boat races Saturday.
Only one top fuel hydro racer - Greg Tedesco, in Loose Cannon - completed a pass without difficulty in the first run. The stalling boats drew jeers from the crowd along the Savannah River.
During the second set of top fuel hydro passes, spectators gasped as two boats crossed paths, nearly crashing.
John Haas, in Roger Way Racing, crossed the center lane, ran into a buoy and nearly hit Kebin Kinsley, in the Aquaholic.
"Top fuel is about the lowest I've ever seen in 12 years - it'll come back," Chuck Fegan said after the disappointing first passes.
Fegan sold International Hot Boat Association gear at Riverfront Marina for his son, Charlie Fegan, a former driver and president of the association that sanctions the races.
"So far, none of us in the class are up to our normal performance, but that's just a matter of time," Tedesco said after the first passes.
Qualifying boats will compete today in elimination rounds beginning at 10 a.m., with elapsed-time classes.
With the fuel hydro class having trouble, the top alcohol hydro boats swept across the water with ease, with four reaching speeds exceeding 200 mph.
Tim Stokes, driving Widowmaker, was top qualifier in the class with an elapsed time of 5.528 seconds and a speed just more than 215 mph.
Tedesco said hot air and a cold river made conditions tough.
Kevin Burgess, driver of The Patriot, had a particularly tough day. The new boat he brought to the race didn't complete a single pass.
"I put it in gear, and it just killed the motor," he said of his first attempt. In his second qualifier, the boat traveled only a portion of the quarter-mile track.
"These things are really, really temperamental," Burgess said. "If this was easy, everyone would be out here."
Perhaps the most temperamental boat of the day was Charley Wilkie's Black Widow, a pro eliminator that crashed in the first qualifier. Pieces of the shattered boat sat along a floating dock, and a forklift carried the boat's motor and tail from the water at the loading dock.
Wilkie received some stitches and said he felt sore, but was able to return to the marina by the day's end.
Reach Renee Petrina at (706) 724-0851.
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