LEWISTON — Gord Humphrey is in a comfortable spot.
He is leading the World Jet Boat Marathon Championship and doesn’t need to look over his shoulder. With two days of racing remaining, each of his chief competitors in the Unlimited Class have been eliminated and he looks to be a lock to repeat as world champ.
Chad Burns blew his engine during the first 40-mile leg on the Clearwater River Wednesday. Mark Cromie, a three-time-champ and the leader after the first two days of racing, is out following a crash Tuesday. Former world champs Spencer King and Dale Whiteside suffered breakdowns that have taken them out of the running.
As comfortable as that may be, it’s not the way Humphrey would like it.
“With those guys out of the race, we just have to make it up and down the river,” he said. “Which is unfortunate. We came to race, we want to race. When the other guys drop out, it’s nice to eyeball the end of the race but it takes a lot out of it. I’d rather I was racing somebody.”
His gas turbine-powered “Unnatural Disaster” is the fastest boat left, but he can’t ease up too much. Ryan Rogers of Lewiston, racing in the A Class with “Pure Insanity,” stands in second place and is now Humphrey’s chief rival. He could take over the lead with a Humphrey misstep or breakdown. But Rogers brushes off any thoughts of winning the crown.
“We are not even worried about that. We are just focusing on winning our class and making sure we are running every leg,” he said.
Rogers and Humphrey were just seconds apart on the first leg of racing Wednesday, according to unofficial split times. Humphrey raced from Ahsahka to the Clearwater Paper Mill at Lewiston in 23 minutes, 17 seconds. Rogers made the 40-mile trip in 23 minutes and 26 seconds. On the return leg, Humphrey finished in 25 minutes, 9 seconds, followed by Rogers, who ran upriver in 28 minutes and 16 seconds.
Only racers who have started and completed every leg of every race are eligible to be crowned overall world champion. Those still in the running are Humphrey in first place with an unofficial time of 4:16:02, Rogers in second place and about 21 minutes behind, Rick Hollingsworth in third about 1 hour and 9 minutes behind the leader, and Tyson Allen more than an hour and a half off the pace.
The grueling race that has been brutal on boats continued to claim victims Wednesday. Burns is effectively out of the running after something got sucked into his engine.
“The turbine has had it,” he said.
Jake Barney of Lewiston was running third in the A Class standings but suffered a “did not finish” because of a mechanical problem during Wednesday’s second leg. The race started with just eight boats on the first leg and seven on the second. Race organizers expect the field to grow for the final two days of racing Friday and Saturday.
“We are going to have some boats repaired with spare engines and we are going to add at least three more boats that are going to be run just at Riggins in an Open Class,” said race referee Larry Darnielle.
He said some of the drivers who have been knocked out with catastrophic mechanical failures will race in the new boats, but they won’t be part of the official race. The racers will have a day off today and then start again Friday on the lower Salmon River at Riggins.