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DEPUE — Boats brought the noise but the crowd brought the spirit.
The 30th Lake DePue PRO National Championship boat races hosted by the DePue Men’s Club, started at noon on Saturday after three days of sanctioned testing.
If it was the first time you’ve ever been to the boat races on Lake DePue you didn’t have to be told when the racing starts.
An excited crowd of hundreds of people let you know when you should pay attention to the starting line.
****** The chatter around you would suddenly grow quiet, if only for a minute — and then you heard it. The boats had started.
A slight vibration grew under your feet and then the boats came into view.
Boat drivers were ready to race and ready to win. ****** The excitement grew throughout the crowds. Those who we’re sitting rose to their feet and all eyes were on the boats.
“Don’t miss the starting line,” advised Bob Olson, 79, of Milan.
Olson isn’t just a fan of boat racing; he used to race boats himself. Her race for 20 years and every time he was at the starting line he would look two places: directly in front of him and to the side of him.
He’s attended boat races for nearly 60 years.
“I started going when I was a teen-ager and I didn’t have a car,” said Olson. “I had to bum a ride from someone else.”
Olson was at the races with his friends.
“We all went to school together, and we’re all here today,” said Olson.
They gathered together in their lawn chairs to watch the boats race and reminisce on the times they spent down in the water.
A friendly tip from Olson’s friend Steve Welnert of Andalusia, Ill. to first time race-goers:
“The first boat across the finish line usually wins,” he joked. ****** A netted orange fence separated boat lovers from the boat connoisseurs. Going into the pits gave access to anyone who signed a waiver to walk around and get up close to the boats and the drivers.
The groups of boat watchers down in the pits sat at the very edge of the water and were the first ones to see the boats in action.
They were also the first ones to react to the collision between two boats that happened in one corner of the water track in front of them.
When they reacted the rest of the crowd took notice. The boats move so fast through the water it’s easy to lose track of where each one of them are. Some pointed, others ran to the waters edge, and emergency responders made their way to the two boats flipped over in the water.
The accident didn’t lead to any major injuries to the drivers, just to the boats.
Olson said that many times, crowd-goers get more of a rush from the accidents rather than the racing. ****** The boat races aren’t only appealing for seasoned boat racers, the event brought in people from all backgrounds, even if it was just for something to do.
“We’re out here just to have fun and enjoy the boats,” said Mike Darlington of Dalton City, Ill. This year was Darlington’s first year watching the races.
“All three of us our boaters,” said Wayne Cailin of Chillicothe, as he points to Darlington and another friend. “I was out here five or six years ago and I just remembered they we’re here this weekend,” said Cailin.
Families and friends sat together looking over Lake DePue under tents laughing and enjoying the day, even with the heat.
“We like meeting people and seeing people who’ve been at past races,” said Dennis Lopez,70, of DePue. Lopez has been coming to races for 65 years.
“What you see is what you get,” said Lopez. ****** The championship racing continued until Sunday evening before the 30th anniversary celebration came to an end.