After suffering through two difficult years, the Madison Regatta Commit-tee is returning this year with a vengeance in hopes new events and better weather will put the festival and race weekend back on solid footing.
Two years ago, a heat index reaching 115 degrees affected attendance. Last year, rain and high water forced the cancellation of boat racing on the Ohio River altogether. So the all-volunteer Regatta Commit-tee is hoping for a complete turnaround this year, both in attendance and profits.
“It has definitely been a challenge for us to get things back on track, but we have been working very hard and we have a very committed group of people. So we hope that with some new events and enthusiasm, people will come out this year and support the festival,” said first-time Regatta President Tim Torrence, 54.
Photo courtesy of Wanda Hertz
Madison, Ind., native Tim Torrence has been broadcasting races
at the Madison
Regatta for the past
16 years. He is
serving as Regatta
President this year.
Torrence grew up with the Regatta, so boat racing runs in his blood. Both his father and mother, the late Charles and Thelma Torrence, were “big boat racing fans, so I had no choice but to get involved at an early age,” Torrence said.
Charles, a truck driver, used to drive the truck that pulled the Miss Madison Unlimited hydroplane race boat from race site to race site in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Torrence said. Much like his father before him, Tim also travels to as many Unlimited hydro-plane race sites as possible – not as a truck driver but as a radio broadcaster.
Torrence has spent the past 16 years broadcasting the Madison Regatta and other boat races on his hometown station, WORX 96.7 FM and its sister station, WXGO 1270 A.M. He has attended and broadcast the Unlimited Gold Cup race in Detroit the past 10 years. He also has served as a Regatta Committee volunteer, working his way up to finally become president this year.
And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time in Madison Regatta history, considering the high stakes he and his committee faces in restoring the festival’s prominence and financial success after those two previous turbulent years.
“It’s been more difficult getting sponsors this year, but as we get closer to June, I think people are becoming more excited about the Regatta,” Torrence said.
“We have moved some events around and cancelled others to be more fan friendly. Sometimes, if you keep doing the same thing over and over, you can get stale and get into a comfort zone. So with these new events and changes, I hope we can start to build on a different legacy with the festival.”
Kim Washer is serving as the Regatta Festival Chair this year, and she has been working with new organizations to create some of those new events for the festival, which runs the entire last week of June, beginning Saturday, June 28.
Among the new events are Beach Wrestling, organized by the Lide White Boys & Girls Club, on Saturday and a Cutie Pie baby contest on Sunday. And the Madison Parks Department is sponsoring a Rubber Duck Regatta and offering free swimming on Monday night at Crystal Beach Swimming Pool.
Other events have been re-arranged or modified or cancelled. The scholarship pageant has been cancelled with the death last winter of organizer Linda Ralston of the Xi Beta Upsilon chapter of Beta Sigma Phi sorority. The Regatta Committee also cancelled its Little Miss, Pre-Teen and Teen pageants since last year’s Regatta Court was not able to preside over the festivities with the race cancellation. That court, including Regatta Queen Hayley Franklin of Carrollton, Ky., will return to preside over this year’s festivities. The Regatta plans to revive its three pageants for the younger girls, but it is not certain whether the sorority will revive its pageant next year, Washer said.
The annual Firemen’s Waterball Fight on Main Street has been moved from Wednesday night to Tuesday night. The bed race and Madison Area Chamber of Commerce V.I.P. After Hours event have been cancelled. Instead, the Regatta Committee is planning a Media Breakfast at 7 a.m. Friday in hopes it will attract more Unlimited hydroplane drivers and owners and media representatives.
“In the past, we have had trouble getting drivers and owners to the Thursday afternoon Chamber event because many of them were not yet in town,” Torrence said.
Last year, the Regatta Committee took control of the Friday night parade after longtime parade chairs Merle Horton and Dottie Burress retired. Burress died May 15. The two women had organized the parade for 42 years.
Last year, Amy Ralston chaired the parade but she has since resigned. So Washer is now in charge. “I have never done a parade before,” she admits. But she is determined to make the parade as big as ever. She attended the Kentucky Derby Pegasus Parade and Indy 500 parades to get some idea and possibly recruit new entries. She has mailed out parade applications to 23 area high school bands, and even one to the University of Louisville marching band. “I figured what the heck – you never know.”
When the Regatta Committee took over the parade last year they changed the starting time from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. to avoid some of the afternoon heat for patrons. They also shortened the parade by limiting and upgrading the quality of entries, Torrence said.
“We had a lot of complaints that the parade was too long, but last year we had positive feedback after shortening it and moving it to a later time,” he said. “That also gave people and the boat teams more time to get ready.”
In addition to the very popular Regatta Parade, other staples of the annual festival will return, including the Brett Hunter Aerobatics Air Show on Saturday and Sunday, the Madison Courier 10K Walk and Run on Saturday morning, and the biggest festival event of all – the Saturday night fireworks show by the Zambelli family of New Castle, Pa.
But the $22,000 needed to hire the Zambellis has not yet been raised as of the end of May, Washer said. “The American Legion Post 9 is back on board and the city is going to help, but we are still short $5,000.” Washer has had offers from other fireworks companies to put on a smaller and less expensive show, “but I am going to hold out for as long as possible, because we want the Zambellis,” she said.
The Zambelli family, which also does the largest fireworks show in North America each year at Thunder Over Louisville, has been doing the Regatta Fireworks Show for more than 20 years. “They do a great job, and we always get more than we pay for,” Washer said.
Local musician Jimmy Davis has taken over the job of hiring the bands that will play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Firemen’s Park, and Torrence said “I hear Jimmy has lined up some great local talent to play.”
The race schedule also has been modified to a two-day lineup to feature boat racing on Saturday and Sunday only, Torrence said. The boats will be on display Thursday and Friday, and the public will be allowed to stroll the pits with only a $5 Regatta button as admission. Nine Unlimited hydroplanes are expected to participate in Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race card. The weekend also will be highlighted by teenaged drivers piloting J-Stock mini hydros and exhibition runs by the vintage Miss U.S. Unlimited hydroplane.
“We have always heard complaints that there is not enough action on the river on Sunday, so our goal this year is to tighten the schedule and reduce the dead time on the water,” Torrence said. “With these changes, we hope to put on the best show possible for the fans.”
He also anticipates fan interest in coming to see how the Oh Boy’s Oberto-Miss Madison’s newly hired driver Jimmy Shane will do in the cockpit after replacing longtime driver Steve David, who retired after last season.
It’s certainly going to be a season of change for the Madison Regatta. Consider-ing the bad luck the committee has experienced over the past two years, let’s hope it’s a change for the better.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.