‘Something wicked this way comes’

ASB Association considering new track in Jefferson County

Posted 9/13/19

What happens when you slap a giant engine in the back of a little boat, set it free in a criss-crossing course where the driver must make hairpin turns at 80 to 90 miles per hour?

Sprint Boat Racing.

Also, chaos.

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‘Something wicked this way comes’

ASB Association considering new track in Jefferson County

Posted

What happens when you slap a giant engine in the back of a little boat, set it free in a criss-crossing course where the driver must make hairpin turns at 80 to 90 miles per hour?

Sprint Boat Racing.

Also, chaos.

This waterborne motorsport, emerging from the wild riverways of New Zealand, is gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest and draws thousands each summer to two annual events at the Extreme Sports Park in Port Angeles, where racing advocates say it’s a big economic boon, too.

Now, the American Sprint Boat Association, co-owned by Dan Morrison and Doug Hendrickson, wants to build a track in Jefferson County.

“We would love to get down there,” Morrison said. “The Northwest so far has been where all the sprint boats have been racing, so I haven’t really left the Northwest. I would love to see it grow in this area first.”

While a property has not been secured yet in Jefferson County, Morrison said they are hoping to find a good location in order to expand the sport on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Jefferson County would be a really good spot for us to race and keep it all local. We would be able to help out a lot more and a lot of the locals get sponsorship. The potential to draw a big crowd and jazz up the local economy is huge.”

Morrison, citing Clallam County data, said each race generates about $1-$2 million in indirect income for the community as visitors purchase food, fuel and hotel rooms before and after each race.

“We are really jazzed up about that, knowing we can help our economy like that.”

The Leader contacted the Clallam County Treasurer’s Office to verify the number, but was told they could not release that information due to state laws that forbid the release of sales numbers for individuals or companies.

Both budding racers and the economy would benefit, said Hendrickson.

“It brings a lot of money into the communities we race in. That is one of our goals, to support the community. For the racers, it is huge. To have another facility for them is a big deal.”

For the racers, who drop loads of money on their boats, trailers, mechanics and fuel, the more races the better, Hendrickson said.

“With the amount of investment they have, they want to run as much as they can.”

A typical setup can cost between $15-$100,000 depending on the boat, Hendrickson said.

“Most of them, you can buy a really nice package for $25-30,000 or a starter kit for $15-20,000. It is affordable to play but we need more facilities for American Sprint Boat Racing, which is the association that sanctions these events. It is important to us to keep this thing going and move it forward.”

The sport has been around since the 1980s, but is starting to grow by leaps and bounds, Hendrickson said.

“Danny and I own the Amerian Sprint Boat Association and that is our biggest idea, promotion of the sport.”

A year or two out

A new track could be built within a year or two, barring any hitches, Morrison said.

“It just depends. Every property is unique, so you have certain issues as far as grading.”

Morrison is an excavator by trade, so he helped dig out the property in Port Angeles, and would do the same in Jefferson County, he said.

“Where the track is itself we had to cut it down level. That is what created all that berm. We had the scraper in here to cut it all down and put in the outside edge to create the berm.”

It is basically a big bowl, he said.

Morrison said he is open to working with an existing property owner interested in building a track on their land.

“I would love to help them out and get involved. Most likely we can get a lot of volunteer help to come down with equipment, the whole bit, and get it done. It is a heck of a lot of work but we’ve got a lot of help that knows how to do it now and we are getting real good at it.”

The Port Angeles track took years to open, Hendrickson said.

“It is quite involved. This track here took quite a bit of money and five years to get through the paperwork.”

Noise issues

Jetboats can be very loud, akin to a Nascar race although there is only one engine running full bore at a time. Before opening a track in Jefferson County, an environmental impact study would be completed and submitted for review to address the issue, Morrison said.

“Any time you get a permit to run these tracks, you are going to end up doing an environmental impact statement. They are going to ask about noise. Typically, on this property, we are zoned heavy industrial, so we get to make a certain amount of noise for a certain amount of time all day long. We don’t even get close to breaking that threshold as far as what they have set for us (in Clallam County).”

To date in 2019, there have been zero noise complaints generated from the track, said Alice Hoffman, chief civil deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department.

“There have been two calls to (ESP Port Angeles) in 2019, and neither were for noise complaints,” Hoffman said.

If noise is a sticking point in Jefferson County, where residents are currently debating noise from the Navy’s Whidbey Island “Growler” base, boats can be fitted with mufflers to reduce their decibel output, Morrison said.

“We have the ability to quiet everybody down if we have that issue. There are ways to work with the land issues and the noise issues. We are always interested in having another track and keeping this sport growing.”

The track would need to be located on level ground and would require up to 40-acres, Morrison said.

“It is mostly about the parking, because the track itself only takes up about four or five acres. The parking itself, depending on how big a crowd is drawn, we are eating up probably 30-40 acres of parking.”

The track is dug out of the earth, with no lining to prevent seepage. The water does not drain quickly because the soil at the Port Angeles track consists of a large amount of clay, Morrison said.

The channels are also angled so any water that shoots up on the bank rolls back in, Morrison said.

“We dig the channels three feet deep. We lose about 2 to 3 inches of water during the race and what we have done is to fill the track up over the race limit by about an inch and a half. When we finish we will be about an inch and a half low which is just perfect. You really won’t notice it as a driver.”

Any more than that would be a safety issue for the drivers, Morrison said.

“You definitely don’t want to start at race level and drop two or three inches below. Then the channels get narrower and the ledges get steeper and taller. We want these boats to slide up on the grass and not hurt the boats. We are critical about how the water elevation stays all day.”

The shallow nature of the channels allows “island hoppers,” safety personnel out on the track, to quickly rush to the aid of boats that have crashed.

Jetboats are designed to navigate shallow water and are widely used in the Columbia River, upper reaches of Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River and other river systems.

“We use jet pumps so we don’t have a prop or anything hitting the ground, Morrison said.”

ESP Port Angeles draws its water from Dry Creek Water Association, a 50-year-old system.

A new property in Jefferson County would need to have access to plenty of raw water, Morrison said. He was not able to provide an estimate of how many gallons are needed, other than to say his Dry Creek Water meter is on a two-inch pipe, about twice the size of a standard household line.

“Zoning has got to be correct to be able to build the track on that location, Morrison said. “Then we have to have access to water. What we do is pay for it, of course. But a lot of times our track (in Port Angeles) will be half full all year long because it is clay and holds good water. We will spend a couple thousand dollars to have the water put in the track and fill it up to this grade and go again.”

Growing a fanbase

Morrison is convinced the existing sprint boat fanbase would flock to a new track in Jefferson County, adding new fans who live closer to a new venue.

“This crowd is going to be there, I will about guarantee it,” he said. “An hour away is nothing for this crowd. If we get something going there and that town gets jazzed up over it, we will definitely bring something huge to their economy.”

The races are also family events, Morrison said.

“That is why we race twice a year because it is the camping on site. It becomes a big tailgate party which is great because we have young and old here. It kind of polices itself. We never have big problems. It is a family event. We don’t have stupid... It has been great to watch and see the crowd control itself.”

The track likely will draw national and international attention to Jefferson County, Morrison said.

“Typically at least one race a year we will get MAVTV (a motor sports cable channel) here, which is owned by Lucas Oil, and they are shooting it out to 30-million people which is why we get calls from Connecticut, Maryland and everywhere else to come here and watch our race. There are a lot of motorheads that will throw down a couple thousand bucks to go and see a race like this all the way across the United States.”

Hendrickson hopes the sport will expand into Canada and down into southern states, where races could be held in the summer months.

“We’ve got some opportunity, possibly in California, for one-off shows,” he said. “I think once we get this exposed in some of these bigger areas such as LA and back East, it will start moving.”

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