Sprint boat races coming to Ontario site next spring

Clint Birch drives his boat for Fear Not Racing into a curve, along with navigator Terri Lovell, in a recent event. The sprint boat racing sport is coming to Ontario in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Halstead, Jeff Halstead Photography)

ONTARIO – The hush of a golf course will be replaced with the roar of high-powered engines next year when a sprint boat racing venue opens.

Construction crews are at work digging the raceway, transforming what was once the Ontario Golf Course into the Ontario Speedway. The plan is to start races next May.

Sprint boat racing is also referred to as jet sprint racing and started in New Zealand in 1981, according to the website of the United States Jet Sprint Association in Caldwell, Idaho. A crew of two in a shallow-draft boat makes a timed run through a twisting course.

The association calls it “the most extreme form of water sports racing in the world.”

The advent of such racing in Ontario began earlier this year with a phone call from the Ontario Municipal Airport to a Caldwell promoter.

The first thought was to put in a motorcycle race course to replace a golf course that had been shut down for years.

The promoter was Ron Dillon, who said he has been managing events since he was a teenager.

“I didn’t even know Ontario had a golf course,” Dillon said in a recent interview.

He said he’s probably best known as the person behind the Big Nasty Hill Climb, a dirt bike racing event held in Payette annually. Covid scrubbed the event last year and this year.

Motorcycle racing at the Ontario course didn’t pencil out, Dillon said. But his thoughts swung to the water course, stirred by the sprint race association’s interest in a new track.

Such tracks are “extremely rare” and one that was to operate in Lebanon had to close over environmental issues, Dillon said.

The idea fared better with Ontario officials, and the Ontario City Council recently approved a deal to allow the track construction. The city will collect $3,000 or 4% of the gate revenue, whichever is greater.

“The town has really been excited and supportive,” Dillon said. “People around here are just dying for something to do.”

Dillon said fans will find sprint boat racing exciting to watch as the boats accelerate from 0 to 100 in just seconds.

“These boats are very fast, very hard to drive, and they have a propensity to crash, to flip over,” Dillon said.

The first events are scheduled next year for May 6-7, June 3-4 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1. There will be an admission fee and contestants will pay an entry fee. Dillon said the event is designed for families, and activities for kids are planned. Overnight camping is planned as well.

Dillon said the old golf course is “pretty dry and unappealing” at the moment but that will change.

Jay Hartley Excavation of Ontario is at work, digging a boat route that will be 14 feet wide, about 30 inches deep. The track will cover an area 450 feet by 350 feet, Dillon said.

Dirt being taken out will be used to create berms that will be seeded to provide grassy seating for spectators, Dillon said.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday, Oct. 19. Burnt River Farms has signed on as the title partner for the 2022 season.

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