Vintage Regatta returning for eighth year

WHEELING – The sound one normally associates with the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta is the unmistakable roar of hydroplane boat engines piercing the late summer air downtown, and for good reason.

But that’s not all you’ll hear if you visit Heritage Port this Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 1. Organizer Debbie Joseph said a variety of musical talent will be on display throughout the event. As always, admission is free, so she invites all to come to the waterfront and enjoy a cheap day out.

“We’re really excited about our musical lineup this year,” Joseph said. “This is a totally free event. Anybody can come and bring their kids.”

Following the conclusion of heats on Saturday, Mount Pleasant native Joe Zelek and his new country band “Rust Belt Kings” will headline the evening entertainment with a performance at 7:30 p.m. At 9 p.m., the oldies band “Easy Street” will take the stage.

And during the lunch hour in between heats Saturday and Sunday, the local cover band “Hit Play” will play a variety of popular tunes to keep festival-goers entertained during the breaks. Sunday will also feature a car show with cash prizes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Ohio Valley Hillhoppers will bring their remote-controlled airplane show during the weekend, as well.

For kids, there will be an assortment of inflatable rides and the ever-popular Sea Quest Kids program will return for a sixth straight year. Beginning the Thursday before the event, children accompanied by a parent can learn about boat safety, help build their very own craft and take it for a maiden voyage on the Ohio River on Sunday.

“If they can stay and work for an hour, that’s great. … The only thing they have to do is have an adult with them to sign a waiver,” Joseph said.

The weekend features fun for everyone – but for the diehard boat enthusiast, it’s all about the hydroplanes, barely skimming the river’s surface as they reach speeds topping 100 mph.

Joseph said 40 to 50 boats are expected to attend, including one, “Midnight Miss” coming all the way from Queensland, Australia. Owner Graham Coddington shipped the boat to America in April and is traveling to about a half-dozen vintage events, including Wheeling’s, this summer.

With “Midnight Miss” and at least one Canadian entry confirmed to attend, Joseph is proud to note that for the first time, three different nations will be represented this year. Pits will be open during lunch breaks, Joseph said, giving spectators a chance to see the boats up close and meet the daredevils who pilot them.

Of course, the regatta is about more than fast boats and a good time – it’s also about helping children facing major health challenges. Proceeds from the event benefit Easter Seals, which provides services to more than 1 million people with a variety of disabilities each year.

Since the inaugural regatta in 2006, event organizers have donated a total of $34,650 to the organization’s Wheeling center. Last year’s event raised $7,500, compared to $900 in 2006.

It’s a testament to how the event has grown over the years – as well as to the generosity of local businesses who support the regatta each year, according to Joseph. In addition to WesBanco, major sponsors include A.D. Baker Homes, Merco Marine, Savage Crane and Construction, Health Plan, Lowe’s of Wheeling and Comcast.

“We’ve been able to increase our donations every year because of the generosity of our sponsors,” Joseph said.