The tranquil sounds of Augusta's riverfront makes for an ideal spot for those looking for a quiet afternoon outing on most weekends.
This weekend? Not so much.
Starting today, 7,000 horsepower drag boats will be roaring down the Savannah River in the 24th annual Augusta Southern Nationals.
"I can remember when we had the first (race) here," race chairman Dayton Sherrouse said during Thursday's press conference. "Now it's much more developed. This is an event we look forward to and it's truly a community event."
The three-day event known as "The World's Richest Drag Boat Race" boasts a purse of nearly $140,000. It will feature 11 International Hot Boat Association classes, including Top Fuel Hydro, the fastest drag boats in the world. Proceeds benefit the Georgia Special Olympics.
Seven Top Fuel Hydro boats are scheduled to run this weekend. Among them is returning champion Ron McLellan in the cockpit of Liquid Quicker, which set an elapsed time record of 4.593 seconds in last year's Southern Nationals. McLellan may have set a top-speed record as well, but his time wasn't registered because of an equipment malfunction.
Former Southern Nationals Top Fuel champion and the reigning Lucas Oil IHBA Drag Boat Series world champion, John Haas, is also slated to race this weekend. Haas comes in as the series points leader after his season-opening win in Phoenix. The Southern Nationals was scheduled to be the third race of the season, but water issues forced the year's second race in Chowchilla, Calif., to be canceled.
Despite the economic downturn, IHBA president Charlie Fagan said the sport is in better shape than it's ever been.
"Even while the economy is struggling, thanks to our loyal sponsors and the Augusta community, we're getting even stronger," he said.
With other smaller series recently merging with the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series, the quality of the field should improve.
"You'll see a lot more boats than you've seen in the past and the competition will be a lot stouter than it has been," Fagan said.
Reach Joey Jones at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
Times: Gates open at 8 a.m. today, Saturday and Sunday. Racing begins at 10 a.m.
NIGHT OF FIRE: Tonight from 6-9 at the Augusta Commons
TICKETS: Today's test and tune: $5; Patron badges: $70; Series: $30; Saturday only: $18; Sunday only: $18