Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — Thousands of people attended Gratwick Park last weekend to see nearly 100 teams compete at the Thunder on the Niagara boat racing competition on the Niagara River.
The event was a success, according to Peter Hackett, a Tonawanda native and race director of the Niagara Frontier Boat Racing Association.
“Everything about the race was outstanding,” Hackett said. “Attendance was great, and the cooperation from all of the teams that competed was very successful.”
The winners in each class were Tom Richmond from Scranton, Pa., Charlie Hamill from Youngstown and Donald Laduc, Norman Esbary and Patrick Hawerch from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec.
The winners were chosen by process of elimination. Each boat went through three qualifying races, and then competed in the final race.
Hackett, who also took part in the competition, finished in second place in the first qualifying race. After his qualifier, however, he ran into some problems.
“I had problems all weekend long,” Hackett said. “After the first qualifying race, twice we didn’t get a chance to leave our dock due to an ignition problem.
“In the final on Sunday, we left the dock and our ignition problems came back. It was a little disappointing for the local crowd that we didn’t have any local winners, but I worked on four of the five boats that ran in the final. I built one of the boats and painted two others, so at least I contributed to the success of everyone else.”
Hackett was pleased with how smooth the event unfolded.
“We didn’t have any serious incidents on the water,” Hackett said. “We didn’t have any crashes … there was one spinout, and we only had two incidents in the crowd with some people over-heating due to the warm temperatures, but other than that, we had no problems at all.”
According to North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt, the success of Thunder on the Niagara wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community.
“We talk a lot about our waterfront and how awesome it is and the events like this that happen here, but it wouldn’t be possible without regular residents who care and invest their time and volunteer,” Ortt said. “We have a waterfront commission here in North Tonawanda and all the volunteers of that commission dedicate a lot of time and they care about this event. (The race) has gotten bigger and better every year, and it keeps attracting more and more people to our beautiful park.”
“Overall, the race was a success,” he said. “We ran a total of 56 separate races in two days, and the people seemed to enjoy it. I also have to give a lot of credit to the people at the NFBRA for helping to put the race together. They, along with a lot of different local businesses, were the main reasons why it went so smoothly.”
Hackett is already looking toward next year.
“I think a few things could improve — mainly some of the seating — but everything else was excellent,” Hackett said. “What’s really impressed me about this community is that the attendance has grown, from the first year of the race with 40 teams and a couple thousand people watching, to last year where the attendance made my hair stand on end.”
“People in North Tonawanda sure do love their boat racing.”