The premise of building it and race fans will come has taken off in St. John as the Webb’s Slough sprint boat race course continues to grow in size and scope heading into its third year of existence, which kicks off Saturday and hosts its second event in August.
United States Sprint Boat Association racing pits a driver and navigator against the course. No side-by-side racing takes place and the winner is the team that can run the course in the shortest amount of time. The boats produce more than 1,000 horsepower and come complete with a roll-bar over the driver and navigator.
Matt Webb and his wife, Amanda, enjoy the racing action, but the whole spectacle of improving and tinkering with the USSBA race course brings as much joy as either race weekend, Amanda said.
“We’re excited and really looking forward to the season,” she said. “(Matt) keeps adding to the facility and making it better for the fans and the racers. After a couple of years, we’re seeing people who have been here before come back and we add new fans and teams each race.”
Fans will see several improvements for 2009, including more grass-covered seating and safety improvements.
“Matt’s been working hard at getting everything ready,” Amanda said. “Over the last few weeks, he decided to put in another safety fence so he and our volunteers have been busy with that. It looks really nice and it makes for an even safer race course for the racers and the spectators.
“We have added to the number of food vendors that will be on site this year, planted more trees and thrown down more grass seed so everything is looking really good for the weekend. Matt is a project guy and is always doing something to the course. We love this piece of property and want our fans and the racers to enjoy it as much as we do.”
The Webbs enjoy the fruits of their labor, but the greater St. John community sees the benefits of an event that brings upward of 3,500 spectators in one day to a town with a population that barely cracks four digits. From the St. John-Endicott football and golf teams to the FFA, everyone pitches in and makes an effort to be part of the event and even try to raise a little money, Amanda said.
“St. John is growing with two new businesses opening up just in the last few months,” she said. “This year we’ll have a street dance, a live band and other attractions. People understand that fans are coming to St. John and they bring money into the community.”
Volunteers make the show go and Amanda said two races a year are plenty.
“At this point, we feel that two is our limit,” she said. “Our support crew, the kids that park cars and clean up and the safety people in the center of the course are all volunteers so we don’t want to wear them out. We like the fans coming in to watch the events, but we don’t want to wear them out either by adding to the amount of dates we already have.”
Festivities begin at 5 p.m. today with safety inspections and a show and shine event on Front Street in downtown St. John. Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday with qualifying at 10 followed by racing at noon.
For those interested in making a weekend trip, the St. John’s Fairgrounds offers camping sites with full RV hookups. Camping is also available at the Slough without a reservation.
Additional race information can be found at www.webbsslough.com.
Tickets can be purchased by contacting TicketsWest through tonight or at the gate on Saturday. Seating is general admission, with plenty of open ground from which to choose. Coolers are allowed, but race organizers ask that no alcohol be brought inside the spectator area.