Gators and the Wind steal the show at ASN

The following article appeared in the Augusta Chronicle… on Saturday July 16th.  By Chris Gay

Photo by Joseph Marsingill

Wind-whipped white cap waves wreaked havoc on the 26th edition of the Augusta Southern Nationals.

Heavy winds and unwanted visitors were the main attractions at Saturday's qualifying round of the Augusta Southern Nationals drag boat races.

With below-average temperatures in the 80s, the wind blew between 10-20 mph most of the day, chopping up the water and halting the annual drag boat competition for a short while. With the wind, race organizers reduced the number of lanes from two to one — further slowing down the event. But wind wasn't the only issue.

A 5-foot alligator introduced itself at the starting line before floating downstream past the Boathouse, a popular spot for spectators. The alligator eventually swam across to the South Carolina side of the Savannah River.

"We've never had an alligator," race chairman Dayton Sherrouse said. "When I heard on the radio there was an alligator on the starting line I said somebody's pulling a real fast one. It's a probably a log or something. Then they kept talking about it."

Later in the day, organizers learned of another alligator — said to be about 12 feet — resting near the start line.

Adding to the bizarre nature of the day, the two top fuel hydro drivers never crossed the finish line. Their first qualifying runs were canceled because of the wind. When they finally ran again at almost 7 p.m., both drivers barely got off the starting line.

Daryl Ehrlich, piloting Problem Child, lifted several feet out of the water at the start and immediately shut down his boat. The Round Rock, Texas, driver said a new set of propellers were positioned too far beneath Problem Child.

"It stood on its tail and it would've gone backward if I would've stayed with it," Ehrlich said. "Now that we know what it did, we know what to do to fix that. It's just any time you put a new set of props on, you don't know what you're going to get. The first run is always a monster experiment and hopefully with good results."

Scott Lumbert, of Creal Springs, Ill., followed Ehrlich with a different problem. The wind pushed Lumbert's boat to the side at the starting line and it drifted toward the outside of the course. He shut down the 8,000-horsepower Spirit of Texas well before finishing the 1,000-foot course.
"There was no chance at even saving it," Lumbert said. "Waiting this wind out bit us in the butt. You can't fight Mother Nature. It'll get you once in a while."

Lumbert said every race on the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series this year has been beset by wind or rain. He remained optimistic about today's elimination competition, which begins at 10 a.m. at Augusta Riverfront Marina.

With the top fuel hydro drivers failing to post a time, Joel Weber, of Goddard, Kan., clocked the fastest time of the day. In the top alcohol hydro division, Weber and his boat, What A Tomato Too, roared down the river in 4.445 seconds, with a top speed of 199.362 mph.

Ehrlich and Lumbert will have no problems eclipsing the 200 mph barrier today. In their previous showdown in June in San Angelo, Texas, Lumbert piloted the Spirit of Texas to the top speed of 255 mph, just ahead of Ehrlich and Problem Child (246 mph).

Ehrlich said he hopes the weather cooperates so the drivers can show off their boats.

"We paid our dues today," he said. "Let's go have a great race day tomorrow."

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