On May 4-6, 2018, thunder came to Port Neches, Texas, a lively community on the Neches River just southeast of Beaumont, as the 18th running of the “Thunder on the Neches” roared into town; the first stop of the 2018 The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship Series.
The 2018 NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship series was thrilled to welcome a handful of brand new drivers, including five rookies in Formula Lights and three rookies in F1.
Notably absent from RiverFest were several members of the Rinker dynasty – last years’ series champion, #10 Terry Rinker, the patriarch who is retiring from boat racing, and his son, the 2017 series F1 points runner-up, #30 Rob Rinker, who is taking time off to focus on his business. The sole Rinker name on the F1 entry list was 2017 NGK F1 series third place points champion, #20 Ashton Rinker.
Winning the F1 “Thunder on the Neches” was veteran racer, #2 Tracy Hawkins from Willis, Texas, a driver who had competed at Port Neches 15 times without getting to go home a victor. History was made when Hawkins drove his #2 purple and yellow Seebold hull to victory.
The weekend started with Hawkins running out of fuel during the first four-minute timing session. “Let me just tell you, we went through all kinds of adversities to get there. When I went out for our 4-minute qualifier, we tested right before that, and I assumed we’d have enough fuel to do four minutes. I did two laps – didn’t really get a good lap down – and I started sucking air, telling me I was out of gas.”
But Hawkins still qualified a respectable 4th, only to experience a dead battery at the start of the first heat. “They dropped the flag, and it just sat there. I didn’t even run the first heat,” Hawkins sighed. His luck then got better temporarily, winning heat #2.
But on Sunday morning, during the 3rd heat, Hawkins got squeezed at the start which resulted in contact with #53 Greg Foster. “Spencer Love and Foster kind of jumped off in front of me and I was kind of sandwiched between them. I climbed up on Foster’s deck and got a hole ripped on the top deck,” explained Hawkins.
All drivers were able to continue racing, until Hawkins’ propeller suddenly lost a blade, causing him to rush to the ramp. While Hawkins was making the prop change, #53 Foster tripped on a roller in a turn, causing his F1 to tilt up entirely on its side. Miraculously, the boat did not complete the full roll, but the incident did cause a stoppage of the race, giving Hawkins a chance to get back in line for the start. Still not too confident about the prop swap, Hawkins said, “My prop that I always run is a really good one, but I didn’t know if I wanted something with top end or if I wanted to run something with punch to get off the dock? So, I went with it.”
And that prop choice helped Hawkins grab the top spot, along with a few mental mistakes made by two of his closest competitors, which momentarily delayed their start off the dock. “To their dismay, it was a plus for me. It sure was nice out front, leading. It’s been a long time since I’ve won a big race. I’ve never won Neches before!”
Hawkins offered thanks to all who support T-Hawk Racing: Bell Ray Oil, CDI Electronics, Palmer Power, Baumann Propellers, Tuttle Enterprises. And of course, his biggest fans – his two Great Danes, Colt and Izzy; his sweetheart, Jane and his dear mother, Ms. Betty who all got to share in his first NGK Spark Plugs F1 Powerboat Championship victory.
Fans also witnessed a number of other firsts, including double wins by 17-year-old racing sensation, #8 Jeremiah Mayo of Richmond, Texas, who outran every racer from two different boat racing categories, taking the victory in the Tri-Hull class as well as Formula Lights.
But Mayo’s weekend didn’t start off so well, as the team saw their F-Lights motor blow up twice and then had to be rebuilt twice. His toughest competitor – a California driver who is also his boat builder -- 4-time “Thunder on the Neches” Formula Lights champion, #93 RJ West of Skelton Racing, was quick to lend Mayo a few parts he needed to get his motor back into shape. West had no way to predict that he’d soon be settling for second place on the podium behind the recipient of his generosity, Mayo, who would go on to lap every boat except West in the F-Lights final.
After taking the victory, which was his first NGK F1 series win in Formula Lights, Mayo described how turmoil turned into triumph, “We got a piston and a few tools from RJ West. He was a huge help in fixing the motor. We worked until 1:30 in the morning rebuilding the motor on Friday. We got that rebuilt and showed up Saturday morning a little bit late, had to break it in, and the motor came together and ran great.”
Finishing in third place behind West was second qualifying heat winner, #17 Chris Hughes from Santa Fe, Texas.
Jeremiah Mayo also took the crown in the Tri-Hull class, besting 13 other drivers in his very first Tri-Hull victory. Fast drivers who kept Mayo on his toes all weekend were #52 Chris Rinker, #10 Jerry Rinker and #00 Hunter Barber and #0 Wayne Barber.
The Tri-Hull final heat win wasn’t exactly easy for Mayo, who started in 2nd position on the dock behind pole sitter, #52 Chris Rinker. “Me and Chris started side by side, and he was gone. But then lapped traffic kind of held him up a little bit, so I could catch up and get back into battling with him again... (At the turn) he chose the inside line and skipped out a little bit, and we ducked under him on the inside and then it was a drag race down the back straightaway.”
The top three finishers in Tri-Hull were: #8 Jeremiah Mayo, #110 Darryle Middleton taking second, and third place going to hometown star, #00 Hunter Barber.
Racing in two different classes with vastly different race hulls on the same day is also not an easy task. Mayo explained the challenge, “They are so much different. In the (F-Light) tunnel boat, you have to be serious and spot-on -- everything needs to be correct. You have to push and push and push and keep it off the edge of blowing over or rolling. But Tri-Hull is a completely different world. Tri-Hull is like bumper cars on the water. Everyone’s going at it. You’re bumping people going down the straightaway and then people are bumping into you. The main goal is to just try to stay alive out there.”
The Junior Hydroplane class winners were; 1st Jack Schubert #16; 2nd Brayden Cheatham #4; and 3rd Shane Butler #5.
2018 Port Neches RiverFest Partners included:
Port Neches Towing, Inc., Port Neches EDC, Neches Federal Credit Union, Del Papa/Bud Light, Groves Equipment Rental Co., Classic Southeast Texas, Marioneaux Family, Neches River Wheelhouse, TOTAL Petrochemicals and many, many more great supporters.
Greenlight TV will be filming the NGK Spark Plugs F1 racing action all season, producing six 30-minute episodes for the CBS Sports Network. CBS Sports Network will air the recap from the Port Neches “Thunder on the Neches” RiverFest racing on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM ET. Greenlight TV also produces amazing live stream video feeds direct from the race course, allowing fans at home to catch the racing action from multiple camera angles.
Facebook users can also watch any of the past live streams and race photos on the NGK F1 Powerboat Championship Facebook page: facebook.com/NGKF1PowerboatChampionship.
For more information about the NGK Spark Plugs F1 Powerboat Championship Series, please visit ngkf1.com.
NGK Spark Plug F1 Powerboat Championship series is now heading to Florida for the second annual, Gulfport Grand Prix on June 1-3!
CURRENT FORMULA 1 STANDINGS & POINTS
1. ASHTON RINKER #20 270
2. WESLEY CHEATHAM #4 268
3. TRACY HAWKINS #2 257
4. SPENCER LOVE #24 235
5. JOHNNY FLEMING #9 222
6. DUSTIN TERRY #03 203
7. REUBEN STAFFORD #5 182
8. JEFF RENO #34 177
9. DAVID MCMURRAY #57 168
10. TRAVIS YATES #99 149
Remaining races on the 2018 The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship Schedule:
June 1-3 Gulfport, FL - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull - http://www.gulfportgrandprix.com/
June 15-17 Nashville, TN - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull, J-Hydro - http://thunderonthecumberland.com/
Aug. 3-5 Pittsburgh, PA - F1, F-Light - http://yougottaregatta.org/
Aug. 10-12 Springfield, OH - F1, F-Light - http://www.springfieldf1grandprix.com/
Sept. 14-16 Orange, TX - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull, J-Hydro - http://www.orangetexas.org/sport-tunnel-boat-races/
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