Cambridge Classic moves to Mother’s Day weekend

CAMBRIDGE — Sometimes changes have to be made for a tradition to last more than 100 years. To keep up with the times, this year the 107th Cambridge Classic Power Boat Regatta has moved to Mother’s Day weekend.

“The club’s objective is to grow the race and to keep it going for another 107 years,” said Allen Nelson, a member of the Cambridge Power Boat Racing Association, the sponsoring club. “It’s a tradition that has been an important part of this community for a long time. It’s a family event. There’s something for everybody, whether you’re watching people, watching boats or enjoying the weather. Come on out for a few hours, come on out all day. It doesn’t matter. … It’s put on by local folks for local folks.”

The event has grown since the first sanctioned race was run on the Choptank River. With more members in the sport’s Hall of Fame as champions than any other town in the world, Cambridge and world class powerboat racing have become synonymous, Mr. Nelson said.

For anything to remain interesting for a century requires updates and changes over time. Members of the Cambridge Power Boat Racing Association continually seek opportunities to make the annual event interesting to all involved.

Attracting a large and competitive field of entries is important. To that end, Cambridge has earned a reputation as one of the most racer-friendly sites on the circuit. This is a result of many years of finding constant improvements, according to Mr. Nelson.

As a community event, it is also important to encourage spectators. Free admission — there is now a $5 per car parking fee — prime viewing locations with good seating, local concessions, pit access, a family atmosphere and a chance to watch some of the sport’s top competitors all contribute to the Classic’s popularity.

Nationally, the sport of powerboat racing is changing as well. This is the result of a number of factors, Mr. Nelson said. To attract more competitors last year, CPBRA moved its traditional July race date to Memorial Day weekend. The community seemed to like the move and the number of competitors was up, but only slightly. As a result, it became obvious that to grow the field, more changes were needed.

The Hydroplane Racing League, based in Valleyfield, Canada, operates a circuit of races in Eastern Canada and the U.S. HRL has developed a field of four classes of hydroplanes that have attracted the sport’s top competitors. A two-plus year discussion to bring a full HRL program to Cambridge peaked last year with an agreement to stage the first race in 2017.

To accommodate HRL, it was necessary to move the race dates to May 13 and 14 because of pre-existing race schedules conflicting with Memorial Day.

Club Commodore and racer Tom Thompson said, “the early date will possibly impact our spectator fleet and with school still in session it will be harder on some volunteers. However, the opportunity to bring 70-plus boats to race on the Choptank was a challenge we felt was worth taking.”

Included on this year’s schedule are the 4 HRL classes including 2.5 litre, formula 2500, Hydro 350 (previously 5 litre) and Grand Prix. In addition, two APBA classes will be on the program — 1 litre modified and Jersey Speed Skiff.

Racing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. each day with the HRL classes running first followed by the two APBA classes. A possible organized testing period is being considered for 3 p.m. Friday. Spectators will be allowed to enter the cold pit area for the APBA boats.

HRL boats will be staged on the blacktop at Great Marsh Park and because of the tight quarters, safety precautions will prevent spectators from entering that area.

Other than the changes in classes, spectators will see and experience much of the same as they have in the past including local concessions, T-shirts and a lot of noise. Every class participating will have a full field of racers, and in several cases, elimination heats will be required to determine who goes to the final heat. As one of the first events of the new racing season, Mr. Nelson said he also expects to see new teams and new ideas being tested all in quest of the year-end championship.

The Classic has been able to continue thanks in large part to local supporters and sponsors, Mr. Nelson said. Bringing world class competition to the Choptank is costly, and all of the funds come from local organizations that want to see the tradition continue. As spring comes, and temperatures warm, boats will travel from Florida and Canada to merge at Cambridge to compete May 13 and 14. Mr. Nelson invites the community to come out and be part of the tradition.

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