I got a call from a friend who wanted to know if I could cover the “Drag Boat Races” down in Wheatland Missouri for Lucas Motor Oil Sports. I had the weekend open and said sure. Here is the account of my motor sports weekend.
The first thing that caught me off guard was the lodging. Usually, it is the nearest hotel. Wheatland, being a population of 300 is limited in it’s lodging options. The call sheet had me staying at “The Amish House”. The address was two coordinates. I was a little concerned that I would be sleeping with Ike and his clan, with no electricity and milking cows to earn my keep. It turns out it is a “former” Amish house that Lucas Oil had bought and converted into crew lodging. It was very nice.
Upon arrival I meet a portion of the crew I would be staying with. 3 of them where with the helicopter. Yes, Lucas Oil travels a helicopter all over the country for these shows. It has a custom trailer that the pilot takes off from that some of the crew call “The Smoker”. It was a one of a kind trailer.
The Lucas Motor Speedway is an oddity to me. It is this really nice facility basically in the middle of no where. Someone explained that is was cause “land is cheap”. The drag boat lake is a man made strip of water about a half mile long. During a rain delay the announcer said that it was being resurfaced. Drag boat racing is a lot like drag racing except it is with boats and on water, let that sink in for a minute. There are like 30 different classes all the way from personal watercraft up to top fuel. Top fuel are like rockets that can reach speeds of over 250 mile an hour in a quarter mile. The rooster tail of water spans the entire course and water is still in the air at the starting line when the boat crosses the finish line.
If you ever want to wallow in the bosom of America, or in this context “Motorboat the titties of Merca” the race track is place to be. At the start of race day, there is a prayer that thanks Jesus for the American soldier who fights for our freedom to race drag boats, because in some countries, you are not allowed too. We also prayed for safe, fast and loud. I smiled and said a sincere amen.
Next came the national anthem. They had to restart it because Radar Love was playing at the same time in the PA system and it took a minute to shut it off. It took me several races to get the flow of how the race worked. The boats are towed out to this big starting rope and the drivers hold on to it. The starter then lifts this big lever and the rope goes up a couple of feet. The trick with the race is, the starting line is about 70 yards from the rope. A 10 second clock starts counting down and the driver has to calculate when to take off so that they cross the starting line right at zero, and not jump the light and get disqualified.
The first day of racing went pretty decent. It was odd, because I had only very vague directions on what they wanted from the jib arm. All the cameras were on their own and we just basically covered assignments. An editor would cut the show together at a later date.
I returned to the Amish house just in time for a huge storm. I watched as 70 mile an hour winds took out an ancient tree. The Amish house stood strong. The next morning I discovered that the helicopter trailer did not fare as well.
Everything is draped in American flags and stars.
Day 2 of the races was pretty similar. The weather was touchy and we had a few wind delays and dodged the rain. A very entertaining part for me was the race announcer. For 6 hours he talked about the race, the rules, the concession stands, all kinds of stuff. He was good at his job and made the time pass nicely.
We only shot the top classes for the show so I had plenty of downtime to relax. The only problem was that I had no cell phone coverage. My lifeline had been cut. Addiction is a horrible thing. I knew important things where being discussed on facebook, yet I was powerless to shape these historical and thought provoking debates. I now truly know suffering.
We were getting weather updates and the race officials where pushing to get everything in before a very large thunderstorm cell slammed into us. We had everything finished except the top fuel. The sky grew dark and green and there where no top fuel boats to be seen. Then we got a lightning report which shuts me down. The jib is basically a big ass lighting rod so the show production manager told me to get it down as fast as possible. I complied. Halfway through my breakdown, the top fuel boats arrived. I took a minute to watch the race. Because it was so dark, when they took off you could see the fire erupt from the exhaust. The motors explode in sonic noise. The boats leap and are gone. I found my arms where above my head, my fist clinched and I was screaming like I was a kid at a rock show.
Then it was back to work, but I had run out of time. The storm came and hit hard. A few years back, I did a rocklahoma show and got caught in a similar storm. It is not something I enjoy but I kinda do. There is a weird energy you get working in severe weather. Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Lt. Dan it on the top of the mast on the shrimp boat during the hurricane? It’s like that.
2 hours later, we had everything secure and packed up. I jumped in the truck and hauled home. Drove through another storm and arrived in KC to sunlight and my beautiful wife. It was a good weekend.