2018 NGK Formula One Powerboat Championship – “Thunder on the Cumberland” in Nashville, TN
The Third annual “Toyota Thunder on the Cumberland” in Nashville, TN welcomed the sleek racing hulls of the NGK F1 Powerboat Championship, with teams strumming into town on June 15-16, for the third round of the 2018 series, featuring the 120 mph, 250 hp Formula One tunnel boats, as well as the Formula Light tunnels, Tri-Hulls, and J Hydro classes. The entry list included an unprecedented number of new racers, with five rookie drivers in Formula One and five rookies in Formula Lights strapping on race helmets at Nashville.
NGK F1 Powerboat Championship, which is now mid-way through its 6-race North American tour, came into Nashville, TN just two weeks after putting on a sensational show in Gulfport, FL, where giant waves and big wind helped send #24 Spencer Love, sponsored by “Clover Construction,” to the “Gulfport Grand Prix” winner’s circle, as he was driving a race craft that is slightly larger than most of his competitors, giving him an edge in the big swells of the gulf. Love’s multiple wins put him solidly at the top of the NGK F1 Powerboat Series points leaderboard coming into Nashville, with 535 points, followed by #20 Ashton Rinker of Riverview, FL in his “Lickety Split Ice Cream/Rinker Racing” team with 523.5 points, and #2 Tracy Hawkins “Bel-Ray Oil” of Willis, TX, with 497.
During the qualifying sessions, the tight turns were tricky, affecting rookies and veterans alike. Veteran Johnny Fleming, #9 “Fleming Manufacturing”, and rookie John Edde, #55 “Renegade Products” came into turn #1 and discovered a monstrous rogue wave wafting across the course. Fleming bounced sideways, landing upright, but Edde was not as lucky, with his Pugh hull tripping and landing upside-down. But both drivers were able to return to the race course, with only Edde missing out on heat race #1. In the timing heats, disaster struck when the #241 of Bryan Babineau collided with the #13 Aaron Wachholz, ending the session, and also ending the weekend for both competitors as both boats were heavily damaged. Thankfully, the two drivers were not injured as the built-in safety cells with a 6-pt driver harnesses did a fantastic job protecting both drivers. #20 Ashton Rinker set the fastest qualifying time in the timing heats, which would have normally put him in the front of the line for Heat #1, but he was unable to make the call due to motor issues. This put #27 Mark Proffitt of Jacksboro, TN, attending his first race of the series, at the front of the pack for Heat #1, starting beside #53 Greg Foster of California, in the “CB Technologies” sponsored entry. In the second row was the Gulfport winner, #24 Spencer Love, starting beside #9 Johnny Fleming.
Because of the extremely narrow Cumberland River course, which sits directly in front of Riverview Park in downtown Nashville, the boats were unable to utilize their normal dock starting method, and instead, were positioned to start NASCAR-style; lined up two-by-two and led by a pace boat until the drop of the flag.
Port Neches Round 1 winner, Tracy Hawkins, #2 “CDI Electronics/Tuttle Enterprises/Bel Ray Oil” started in row three but fought a hard race to make his way up to 2nd place when the race was stopped due to the accident. Proffitt held off tough competition to hold onto 1st place. Foster and Fleming finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Spencer Love #24, who had his hands full trying to resolve a fuel system problem all weekend, finished 7th.
Dustin Terry of LA and Reuben Stafford of TX – who both drive for the McCollough Racing Team – swapped boats for Nashville, with Terry driving the number #5 and Stafford driving the #03. Their other #03 boat, a Seebold hull that Terry normally drives, had been damaged at the prior event in Gulfport. Terry finished 5th in Heat #1 and Heat #2, with a 6th place finish in the Final, putting him 6th in the points chase, while Stafford struggled all weekend dealing with handling issues in the #03.
Heat #2 saw #20 Ashton Rinker make it back to the course after his crew chief, James Chambers, was able to find and fix the motor gremlins. Since Rinker missed Heat #1, putting him in last place and Heat #2 was the “reversed order” heat, he was able to start on the pole.
Rinker jumped right out front until #24 Spencer Love came to a stop on the course on lap 5, as he was battling the #4 of Wesley Cheatham of TX, “Trinity Excavators”, and #53 Foster. This resulted in a restart that closed the gap between the faster boats and gave #53 Foster and #2 Hawkins a shot for the front.
The surprise of the day was an incredible run by rookie Fred Durr of Florida in #96 – who was piloting the famous yellow championship Lee Craft formerly owned by last year’s series winner, Terry Rinker – as he held off several of the top running veterans to eventually finish in an impressive 3rd place.
Durr gave some insight on his new boat, “It takes a little practice to learn how to drive it, but I’m getting it. And it’s very, very fast. I got a new mechanic – Bill Gohr – who really knows how to tweak the thing and talk to me on the radio, which is very important. I’m having the time of my life.”
It was a good thing that the racing numbers were visible, as the top three boats were all bright yellow. Finishing behind winner Rinker was Foster in 2nd, with Cheatham in 4th and Dustin Terry in 5th.
Heartbreak for veteran #2 Tracy Hawkins, now in his 39th year of boat racing and a mentor to some of the younger drivers, as he had moved all the way up to 3rd spot, only to have his 2.5 Mercury powered Seebold hull sputter out of gas, knocking him all the way down to 8th position, losing valuable points and a drop in starting positions for the Final.
The F1 Final on Saturday saw #20 Rinker relegated to start back in 10th position due to being short on points when he missed Heat #1. On the pole was #53 Foster next to #27 Proffitt. In third spot was #2 of Hawkins, followed by #5 Terry, #96 Durr, and #9 Fleming in sixth. The #62 of Chris Fairchild – who was instrumental in bringing the racing series to Nashville – would start in the 7th position.
When the green flag dropped, #27 Proffitt shot out to the front with #53 Foster beside him, with barely any space showing between the two boats, and Hawkins hot on their transoms. A few laps later, #57 David McMurray hooked in front of Proffitt, and Foster took advantage of the lucky break to get around Proffitt on the next straightaway, taking over the lead.
At one point, the top four boats – Including #2 Hawkins and #5 Terry -- were only 15 boat lengths apart. #20 Rinker had moved his way all the way up from 10th to 4th, and Hawkins made a pass over Proffitt when a red flare stopped the heat.
The reason for the flare; Boat #15 Tim Kraft, a rookie who was carefully staying toward the outside of the course as he was putting some valuable time on his new boat, was squeezed out further by another boat, forcing him to run over an outside course marker buoy, sending his boat careening up the bank into the rocks and trees.
Kraft, of Lockport, IL, dejectedly described his fate. “It felt good until it decided it wanted to go tree hunting! It is what it is. That’s racing. Got shoved out and hit a (course marker) buoy and that was it. The buoy harpooned the bullet on the gearcase and wrapped around and just shoved me to the right. All I could see was trees and I hoped they weren’t coming through the windshield.”
Kraft plans to put the boat back together and hopes to have it repaired in time to make the next race in Pittsburgh on Aug 3-5. Despite the disappointment of the weekend, Kraft explained what a thrill it was to be part of the NGK F1 Powerboat Series and racing among the toughest competitors in the sport.
“You’ve got guys from back when I was a little kid – like Foster – who I line up against now, to guys like me who just got into it. It’s a wide field with a lot of competition. You can race with the best and even go out and beat the best.”
The restart was a blow to both Foster and Hawkins, as they each had fought so hard to attain their new positions. Foster had been slowly increasing the distance between himself and the #27, and now he would be starting side by side with him again. Hawkins, who was technically in third but running neck and neck with second place Proffitt when the flare came out, would now be starting in the row behind him.
Once again, Proffitt got slightly ahead at the start, and he and Foster battled lap after lap, with another battle raging right behind them between Rinker and Hawkins for third. After about 8 wild laps that produced some of the best racing in a decade, Foster’s bright yellow #53 submarined completely underwater, allowing Rinker and Hawkins the chance to get past him.
Hawkins never eased up the pressure he was placing on Rinker, and on the very last lap, made the pass to collect a very important 2nd place podium and more points toward the championship.
An emotional Hawkins relayed how much he cares about his team and his sheer grit and determination. “I never give up. My team never gives up. We had some mishaps in the heat races earlier in the day. We miscalculated some fuel which put us behind the eight ball. We had a chance to maybe get on the pole if that wouldn’t have happened, but we never quit. My team and myself – I assured them that if they don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on them.”
Choking up, he added, “Lady Luck was with me. I had a four-leaf clover in my boat with me today; a clover that my sweetheart, Miss Jane, found on her way here. We went out there and I drove my butt off. And it was a tight, hard race. These guys are beating up this old man! But you know what? The old man showed them that he’s not here to give up on my team.”
#20 Ashton Rinker finished third and was pleased that he worked all the way up to a place on the podium. “I started 10th in the Final and was able to run through all the traffic and make it up to 2nd. Had a little problem getting around some of the back markers but we finished the weekend being up on the podium. Thanks to Lickety Split and Rinker Racing, we were able to do that.”
For Foster, the day didn’t finish as he had hoped, with the restart coming at a bad time. “I got a second in the first heat and a fourth in the second heat. So that put me on the pole with Proffitt, the #27 boat – he bumped me around a little bit and got past me, which is fine. I waited a while for the water to get rough and passed him, and then the #15 boat ran up in the rocks. Then we had a restart and I could never get rolling again.”
#27 Mark Proffitt, becoming the third different winner to capture an F1 Final this season, said, “It was a lot of fun with Greg Foster on your hip; you know it’s always going to be exciting. I started 2nd on the outside and took off. We felt like we had some speed on Foster, so I just kind of played it safe, got through the first turn clean and it was a drag race down to the next turn.”
Discussing the restarts, he added, “It was a tight race. Foster passed me when I came up on one of the local guys – I thought he was going to barrel roll in a turn down there -- so, I let out of the gas and let Foster get around me. The restart was what I needed, and I got it.”
Proffitt thanked NGK, Bill Chatfield, Chris Fairchild, Northlake Boat Center and his crew.
FORMULA 1 FINAL
- MARK PROFFITT #27
- TRACY HAWKINS #2
- ASHTON RINKER #20
- GREG FOSTER #53
- CHRIS FAIRCHILD #62
- DUSTIN TERRY #5
- FRED DURR #96
- JOHNNY FLEMING #9
- WESLEY CHEATHAM #4
- SPENCER LOVE #24
- JIMMY KERR #14
- STEVE MERLEAU #69
- DAVID MCMURRAY #57
- MIKE MAKUS #85
- REUBEN STAFFORD #03
- TRAVIS YATES #99
- JOHN EDDE #55
- TIM KRAFT #15
The Series points leader in Formula Lights at the time, #8 Jeremiah Mayo of Richmond, TX, came to Nashville hoping to continue his streak of podium finishes. But his streak would end with an 8th place finish in the Final, after a Heat #2 collision with Heat #1 winner, #18 Jason Nelson.
Newcomer, #191 Jake Alkema of Michigan, finished third in Heat #1. Winner of Heat #2 was the #2 boat of Travis Thompson of Texas, followed by #27 Carlos Mendana, and rookie #01 Kelly Ireland finishing third, who was the Formula Lights winner at the previous race in Gulfport, FL.
#21, Jose Mendana, Jr. of Florida placed 4th in both preliminary heats, which earned enough points to put him on the pole for the F Lights Final, with #8 Mayo starting in second and #2 Travis Thompson in third. Mayo jumped out to the front and held the lead until the race was stopped due to a stalled boat drifting onto the course, which was #13 Grant Schubert.
Once again, #8 Mayo strolled out in front without a challenge at the restart, while back in second, a fierce battle was being waged between #21 Jose Mendana, Jr. and #2 Thompson. Just when Mayo thought he had the race wrapped up, his boat went dead on the course and began to sink. This brought out the red flag from the chief referee, Doug Rea.
The second restart put #21 Mendana, “Hondros Education Group/Nutt House Yacht Club” on the pole, with #2 Thompson at his side, both veteran racers. Behind them was #77 Dan Trosen and #191 Alkema, both new to the Series, who came into the turn tight together. Trosen got loose up into Alkema, spinning out both boats and opening the doors for the rest of the field to make it past them.
In the end, it was #21 Jose Mendana, Jr. who was able to out-pace the 12 entries and find his way to victory. #2 Travis Thompson was runner up, followed by #40 Austin Cheatham, who, prior to Nashville, had big repairs to make after his spectacular crash at Gulfport.
Even though the second-place finish looked easy, Thompson tells a different story, “It all came together in the end, really, is the theme that you could put on it. We struggled every time we put the boat in the water -- mechanical issues -- and it finally took a combination of parts and luck and whatever you want to call it, but it all came together in the Final. A few restarts helped us out.”
Thompson, who began racing in 2005 but took a few years off to serve in the Marine Corps., explained, “It was a great race trying to get around Jose, but he persevered and got 1st. I was just waiting for Jose to make a mistake, but he didn’t. He drove a strong race. We had great acceleration out of the corners, but he had a little more midrange and top end than I did, but it was a fun race and I’d like to thank the city of Nashville.”
The 2018 Thunder on the Cumberland Formula Lights champion, Jose Mendana, Jr. was ecstatic since he had not had a win since 2013. “It was an eventful day. We were pretty slow yesterday. We made some changes last night and our boat was real fast today. Got a little break there with Jeremiah Mayo having his issues. You are going to lose some like that and you are going to win some like that. The boat was fast. The restarts were scary. You just never know what’s going to fail or not work or not start. It’s been a few years. Family’s happy. Crew’s happy.”
Mendana thanked Hondros Education Group, Nutt House Yacht Club, Jose Mendana, Sr., Kevin Bast, Tim Tool, Mike and Steve Lee. Mendana said, “Mike and Steve retired this year and put this boat together for me a few days ago. They get a lot of credit for this.”
FORMULA LIGHTS FINAL
- JOSE MENDANA JR. #21
- TRAVIS THOMPSON #2
- AUSTIN CHEATHAM #40
- CARLOS MENDANA #27
- JAKE ALKEMA #191
- KELLY IRELAND #01
- DAN TROSEN #77
- JEREMIAH MAYO #8
- DEBBY MOBLEY #45
- GRANT SCHUBERT #13
The rough and tumble Tri Hull heats are always a crowd favorite due to the bumping and hull-to-hull clashes that these boats are built for. Coming to Nashville as points leader in the NGK Tri Hull class, was 17-year-old, #8 Jeremiah Mayo, who won Round #1 at Port Neches, TX. Knocking on his door was #10 Jerry Rinker of Texas, who was hoping to celebrate his 75th birthday with a victory at Nashville. In 2017, Rinker found himself upside-down after a collision, and was hoping to not see a repeat of that.
#52 Chris Rinker – son of Jerry and the winner of Round #2 at Gulfport with a brand-new boat – was unable to compete at Nashville this time due to business obligations.
The field of 9 Tri Hulls included #25 David Wills, also of Texas, the winner of Heat #3, who spun out in front of #8 Mayo in the Final and the two competitors slammed together so hard that the key on Mayo’s boat was knocked out of the ignition and disappeared somewhere onboard the craft. Mayo went on a frantic search for the key, eventually locating it and reentering the race several laps down.
Running right behind #10 Rinker was #56 Klint Dillard of Richmond, TX, holding steady in 2nd place. As the rollicking Tri Hulls tamed the mighty Cumberland and the heat index rose above 105 degrees, the #56 went dead in the water on the very last lap. His misfortune allowed for #25 David Wills to move up to take 2nd place behind Rinker. #54, Darren Ware, also known as “Caddy”, was the third man on the podium.
Victory was sweet for Rinker as he enjoyed a birthday celebration in the pits with this large family, while also celebrating as the new “Thunder on the Cumberland” Tri-Hull NGK F1 Champion. Rinker, who is sponsored by “Rinker’s Boat World”, said he hopes to have a brand new boat by the next race in Orange, TX.
#25 Wills, sponsored by Knight Construction and Hughes Marine, said he loves coming to Nashville and earned his first podium of the season. “We ran good in the 1st heat, then ran real fast in the Final. Cut a buoy, but I had enough laps on everybody that we still got 2nd place. I love Nashville. This is our favorite race to come to. It’s picture perfect. You know, we love the downtown. We love the nightlife. Yeah, we love Nashville and we’d like to come back for a lot of years.”
TRI HULLS FINAL
- JERRY RINKER #10
- DAVID WILLS #25
- DARREN WARE #54
- DARRYLE MIDDLETON #11
- KLINT DILLARD #56
- TRAVIS YATES #99
- CHARLIE DONALDSON #2
- JOHN OTTINGER #33
- JEREMIAH MAYO #8
"Thunder on the Cumberland" fans saw the youngest boat racers in the country racing in the J Hydro class. This entry level class features competitive kids – some as young as nine years old – who are just as serious on the race course as their Formula One mentors. #16 Jack Schubert dominated as he masterfully drove his hydroplane to take the top spot on the podium.
J HYDRO FINAL
- JACK SCHUBERT #16
- KOLBY CROOK #15 K
- SHANE BUTLER #5
Greenlight TV will film the NGK Spark Plugs racing action all season long, producing six 30-minute shows airing on CBS Sports Network. “Thunder on the Cumberland” show will air on Wednesday, July 11th at 7:30 and 11:30pm Eastern>
Follow the series on Facebook at;https://www.facebook.com/NGKF1PowerboatChampionship. VisitNGKF1.com for further information about the NGK F1 Series.
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship is ecstatic to have the strong commitment of title sponsor, NGK Spark Plugs - The Ignition Specialist. Since 1936, NGK Spark Plugs has been the world leader in technology, innovation, and world-class quality in the design of spark plugs and oxygen sensors. Today, NGK manufactures NGK Spark Plugs and NTK Oxygen Sensors for virtually every automotive manufacturer in the world.
NGK has built a reputation for quality and reliability, and a commitment to excellence continues to be the driving force behind the company’s advanced research and development programs. In North America, NGK is headquartered in Wixom, MI and maintains manufacturing, inventory, and distribution facilities in Irvine, CA, Sissonville, WV, and Chicago, IL.
For more information about NGK Spark Plugs, (U.S.A), Inc., please visit our website www.ngksparkplugs.com.