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‘A smashing good time’: Destructive boat races with no water sail in popularity each year at Stateline Speedway

Drivers battle it out during the 2022 Bump to Pass Boat Race on Saturday at Stateline Speedway in Post Falls.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Drivers battle it out during the 2022 Bump to Pass Boat Race on Saturday at Stateline Speedway in Post Falls. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

A Stateline staple, it’s an event simply called the boat races. The nearest body of water is about 4 miles away.

The racetrack spectacle mixes racing and demolition-derby destruction of ’70s fiberglass boats pulled by V8-engine race cars – without trailers – but chained through the hull. Drivers decorate the boats with a spray-painted theme, and stuffed animals are boat occupants.

Eleven drivers raced cars with their boats Saturday at Findlay Stadium Stateline Speedway around the quarter-mile track – to win by having the last boat with the most intact frame. A water truck sprays the track beforehand, but sparks always fly while debris spreads far and wide.

Crazy Melon went home with a victory after about 25 minutes of mayhem, before a crowd of 4,500.

“I go all out with these things; I’m the Crazy Melon,” driver Jared Reichenberg said. “It’s a smashing good time.”

About three hours before race time, he painted last touches on the boat’s green-red watermelon look, and he added a unicorn stuffed animal holding a fishing pole, along with a Pooh bear riding inside.

His car, a former 1978 Caprice, carries the watermelon theme. “I’m a watermelon pulling another watermelon because I’m one slice short of a full melon,” he joked. It’s in tribute to his dad, Gary Cosby, who used that look in racing before his death in 2016. “I just carry it on for him.”

Driver Noah Hamlin hauled a “Mad Max” look for his boat and to go with a car called “Wicked Vicki,” once a 1981 Crown Victoria. He chuckled when asked to describe the boat races.

“To me, young and old, I would describe it as pure, old-fashioned redneck fun,” Hamlin said.

“Adults, it’s kind of a hit or miss, but I don’t think there’s ever one kid who doesn’t come out and doesn’t have a good time.”

Hamlin said his car and others in the same “Bump to Pass” class have a metal safety cage inside and the drivers wear fire suits, a multipoint harness, neck braces and helmets.

The class includes V8-engine cars, with drivers doing strategic touches to another car for legal passes in more traditional races, but that’s not how it goes with boats. Drivers in Bump to Pass started the boat races as an invitation-type event, Hamlin added.

The drivers put chains threaded through drilled holes near the front end of boats on each side. The chains also go through a few tires stationed just inside the boat at the front, for more staying power. However, rules require that the drivers can’t add any reinforcement to the hull itself.

Some drivers on Saturday ended the race with only the tires still attached to chains.

“In a nutshell, we take big cars, we go find old ’70s fiberglass boats, we chain them to the back of our cars and when the flag goes green, the last person with a boat wins,” Hamlin said. “Our rules are, we aren’t supposed to hit each other’s cars, just because we’re trying to save our cars on some levels.

“The object is not to destroy the cars; the object is to destroy the boats. Now, sometimes when you’re driving through a boat, you end up hitting a car. I’ve ended up in the back of people’s boats before. I’ve ended up on the back of people’s cars before. It’s tons of fun.”

Jarrett Kuhn had stars and stripes for his “Freedom Machine” boat. His car was originally a ’97 Chevy Caprice, also with a patriotic theme.

“I come here for the show, so my mission every race is to have all four tires off the ground and maybe the car on its roof,” Kuhn said.

Another fan favorite is driver Darryl Carillio of Spokane with his bright yellow Crazy Taxi 76. This year to win “best in show” for boat decor, he added a giant stuffed panda water-skiing behind his matching boat.

“It’s just to try to do something fun for the crowd,” Carillio said. “He’ll last probably a lap or two. What matters to me the most is that the crowd goes crazy.”

“I’ve done the boat races since the first one, about 2004; I’ve never missed one. It’s like watching legal road rage. You do your best to only hit the boats and not the cars, but stuff happens.”

At Saturday’s race start, a few drivers rounding corners had their boats slide sideways, an easy target unless speed helped them get away. Several pile-ups created obstacles, but some drivers dodged them.

Matt Alexander, the speedway’s general manager, said boat races are held at Stateline three times a year.

People have donated boats to Stateline Speedway for the races, because they’re old and beyond repair, and it avoids a fee at the dump, Alexander said. But he’s had to put restrictions on those donations after too many people dropped off boats filled with garbage.

Signs at the track say, “No boats accepted at this time,” but when needed, Alexander requires a photo first. Donors also must strip the boat’s windows, engine and seats before dropping it off.

He said 5,000 people booking seats for the boat races is typical, while a traditional racing event might get 2,000.

“People love the boat races,” Alexander said. “The fans love destruction. Sparks will fly.”

He’s heard some of the strategies drivers use to win a boat race.

“Some guys like a heavier boat because the heavier the boat, the harder it is to drive through it,” he said. “The smaller the boat, the faster you can get away from somebody, so they each have their own thing.”

It takes two days to clean up the track, he said, with five people picking up scraps and then truckloads of water to wash down the asphalt. “Northwest Sweeping comes out to vacuum and sweep the track.”

That’s why the boat race is the last event of the night.

“The boat race could last two minutes; it could last 20,” he said. “It depends on how long people’s boats stay attached.”

Driver Tim DeMaine spent some time inside another boat this past fall. It’s still worth it, he said.

“There’s nothing quite like broadsiding a fiberglass boat and watching it fold,” DeMaine said. Sometimes, boats and drivers fly a bit.

“I’ve been known to fly over boats. I have been known to land on boats, and I’ve had the fun part of being part of a boat. There were three of us last year, all locked up in the back stretch. Not the way I wanted to end the night, but it was still a lot of fun.

The next boat races run Sept. 24.

“Watching the people afterward, and the thrill they get,” DeMaine said, “it’s worth every bit.”

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