While Mother Nature once again gave drivers three days of hot temperatures for the 2019 Smoke on the Water Drag Boat Races, she was not about to make it smooth sailing over Lake El Reno.
High winds hampered the races for the first two days, which forced some divisions to get moved until the final day of racing, a seven and a half hour competition.
“We wrapped up racing about 7:30 p.m. Sunday which made for a long day and a long weekend,” said event co-coordinator Josh Finnigan.
Forty-eight boats took part in this year’s event which featured a top prize purse of $9,000 for the Unlimited Top Fuel Division. Tim Ortiz, in his first trip to SOTW, beat out fellow Texan Bill Miller to claim the first-place prize money of $6,300.
“It was almost the same exact boat count as last year but there was a whole different crowd of drivers this year. They came from different places with that money we added for the bigger classes. We had boats that we had never had before,” said Finnigan.
Winds popped up during track testing Friday afternoon and continued into Saturday’s elimination rounds. It forced organizers to shorten the track from the traditional 1,000-foot lanes to 660 feet.
“We went with the 660-foot track due to the winds. We had a drivers meeting in the top fuel classes on Sunday and they all agreed they didn’t want to go any further than 660 feet because of the safety aspect.
“A lot can happen in those last 340 feet. Those top hydro boats have two speeds and they can gain a lot of speed in that last part of the track,” said Finnigan.
The wind speeds on Saturday were upward of 20 miles per hour out of the south end of Lake El Reno, which allowed racing to take place even with the shorter distance.
“Anytime the wind blows over 20 miles per hour, it makes it tough to race. That’s why we didn’t get to run the top three classes on Saturday and that’s what made it such a long day Sunday,” said Finnigan.
The winds slowed some on Sunday and allowed all classes to get on the water. There were no accidents on the lake, which is something Finnigan was most happy with.
“Only thing I care about is that we have gone 19 years now without an accident on the track. Everyone went home and we have been very fortunate to have that good of a track record and that amount of good luck.
“Our safety record leaves me knocking on wood. We are very blessed,” said Finnigan.
Crowds flocked to the shorelines to enjoy racing as well as food and frozen treats from area vendors. There were no reports of heat-related incidents, according to the El Reno Fire Department, despite Sunday being the first 100-degree day of the summer.
Finnigan said both the crowds and the racing left the majority of drivers happy.
“The drivers left feeling good about the races. We had people who had never been here before and they loved the venue and the way the community surrounded and supported the event and that made them feel more welcome.
“These are the people that travel all over the United States and for them to tell us we have one of the best venues, we need to build on that,” said Finnigan.
1) Casey Roberts; 2) Sky Howe
1) Mike Hunter; 2) Morey Woods
1) Seth Wright; 2) Mike Jackson
1) Wade Kokendoffer; 2) Ervin Capps
1) David Merchant; 2) Matt Miller
1) Stacy Sopchak; 2) Chop Helms
1) Cindy Helms; 2) Jerry Branum
1) Nathan Hanes; 2) Pat Hobbs
Unlimited Top Fuel:
1) Tim Ortiz; 2) Bill Miller