Smoke on the Water claims to have some of the best drag boat racing in the state of Oklahoma and the Southwest, and organizers are willing to put their money on the line to prove it.
The event returns to Lake El Reno for a fifth straight year July 19-22 with added prize money in three of the 12 classes, while kicking in a little extra to help lure some more boats out of dry dock and into the water.
All classes will again be 100 percent payback to the drivers, but there will be an added $2,500 for the Unlimited Class, with an extra $1,000 kicked into the Unlimited Jet and Fastest G-Wing/TX-19 Class.
“We are hoping to get around 60 boats. We have added some different kinds of prize money in hopes of getting people who would not normally bring their boats to bring them out to the lake,” said co-organizer Josh Finnigan.
One of the added features will be a $500 cash drawing which is open to any racer. To be entered into the drawing, all a driver needs to do is come in and pay the entry fee for the classes they wish to run and then compete in at least the Saturday round of racing.
Winning will not increase a driver's chance of winning the $500 cash pot.
“We are just trying to get the boat count up. We want everyone to understand that if they bring their boat out and be a part of it, they still have a chance to win some money – even if you lose your races.
“We are trying to catch the people in the sport that sit on the sidelines because they feel like they can't beat one person or a boat in their class. We have a lot of boats, even here locally, they don't come,” said Finnigan.
Entry fee for the classes this year will be $50 for the four lower divisions, jumping up to $100 for the next six divisions. The top two classes carry a $250 entry fee.
“We really do give it all back to the drivers and then some,” said Finnigan.
Smoke on the Water is now in its 18th year, the first 13 years spent at Fort Cobb Lake before moving to Lake El Reno in 2014.
Finnigan says the area's response to having the races here continues to get better every year.
“I cannot stress enough how much we appreciate the city of El Reno and all that they do. They have gone out and cleaned the lake area and it looks really nice. The response has been great from the community and that is why I live here,” said Finnigan.
The response from the drivers has also been good so far. Finnigan says boats are expected from here in the state as well as Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Virginia.
“We had some guys call from California and say that they were coming but we will see. This just keeps growing and we are going to have boats from all over the country,” said Finnigan.
One boat which remains in limbo right now is defending champion “Jack's Green Machine,” owned by Jack Weller out of Lake Anna, Va., but driven by Kingston's Harrison Stepp.
“Two weeks ago Jack's boat threw a rod into the block and they are trying to get his Oldsmobile engine fixed,” said Finnigan.
Finnigan says Smoke on the Water lures drivers because of its “outlaw” style of racing. There are no light trees at the start or time limitations on any class.
“It has a lot to do with the fact there is no other race like this. It's a real outlaw-type, flag-dropped race versus having the lights. People off the streets like it because it's boats going 150 miles per hour over a 1,000-foot course. It has the same allure as Street Outlaws.
“These guys are building these (boats and engines) in their garage and then hitting these speeds on the water,” said Finnigan.
Another appealing draw is the races have no gender restrictions.
“The first year here in El Reno, Tina Hill won the whole thing. It doesn't matter what gender you are, it's just the fastest to the finish.
“This is what sets us apart from other races. Races that go off the clock, if you go too fast you break out. We don't penalize here for going too fast,” said Finnigan.
Speed, said Finnigan, is what brings the crowds. The weekend schedule will start Thursday, July 19 with a “Show and Shine” event at Lucky Star Casino.
On Friday, July 20, the lake will be open to test runs from noon until 7 p.m. There will be a free “Show and Blow” event at dusk, where drivers fire up engines against the dark backdrop of the lake.
Racing starts at noon Saturday, July 21, and will run until all preliminary rounds are contested in each class. There will be a corn hole tourney that evening at 7 p.m., followed by a concert at 8 featuring Cade Roth and the Blacksheep. Sunday's final round of racing will begin at noon.
Tickets can be purchased at the gate for a single-day price of $15 or $25 for a two-day pass. Children ages 6 to 12 can get in both days for a single price of $10. There is no charge for youth 5 and under.
Pit passes will run $25 each and Finnigan says free parking is available.