Sunday, August 9, 2009

2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals

Indian Rivers Jim Powell races through traffic during Sunday action at the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals

Photos and Story - Kevin Johnston Eagle Feature & Image.

Looking out onto a very calm Burt Lake from the pit area in Indian River, Michigan’s DeVoe park the casual observer might have thought the 2009 Top ‘O’ Michigan Marathon Nationals boat race was going to be little more than a speedy pleasure cruise. Veteran Top ‘O’ racers like local favorite Jim Powell knew better though.

Prior to the start of Saturdays leg of the Marathon Powell noted southeast wind direction that he knew, even if light by recent Top ‘O’ standards, would make the return across the large Mullet Lake extremely difficult and he was right.

Jim Ladd (D444M) and other DSR drivers race away from the beach at the start of the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals

A field of eighty three boats lined up to start the 09 Top ‘O’ but after mechanical breakdowns, wave damaged hulls, at least one tossed Superlight co-pilot and a few runabout drivers who got wet early less than sixty five managed to make the day one finish line. Almost every driver who discussed it agreed that getting into rhythm with the waves was almost impossible. “There was no clean water” said BSR driver Amanda Hagrel.

On Sundays southern run it was Crooked Lakes turn to challenge racers. Very choppy sections of the lake seemed to slow down the normally faster classes keeping the competition tight and grouping almost the entire field into a steady flow of battling boats. Cheering fans that lined the riverbanks yelled and waved to the drivers as they battled their way back through the Crooked River towards Burt Lake.

A great field of more than a dozen ASR drivers turned out to compete for the National Champion title and in the end it was young Top ‘O’ veteran Nick Jenkins beating out Stephen McCourtie and Terry Kerr. ASR class also had the largest number of female competitors including sisters Anne and Lynn Blomberg of Harbor Springs.

Alanson's Gene Greenacre tries to close the gap BSR driver Amanda Hagerl (not pictured) on Sunday.

The BSR class was anyone’s to win. Eventual winner Gene Greenacre took full advantage of the tough weekend had by his top rival’s Chris and Amanda Hagrel finishing first both days to take the title. “All three of us were pretty much side by side up to Dodge Point” on Mullet Lake on Saturday said Greenacre. “Its the closest we’ve ever all been together.” said the now three time marathon winner. With Chris Hagerl unable to finish Saturday and his sister Amanda suffering an engine failure Crooked Lake Sunday Greenacre just needed finish clean to take the win.

Driver Charlie Smith on his way to repeating as 2sSSR Top 'O' National Champion.

After spinning out before even rounding the fist buoy, returning 25SSR Champ Charlie Smith showed no fear of the mighty Top ‘O’ course as he not only finished first in his class both days but led the entire field including 25SSR second and third place finishers Adam Lowe and Robert Austin across the finish line both days as well.

After his long winning streak was ended last year by Canadian driver Kim Park CSR driver Tim Ross topped the largest class in the event to regain his National Champion title. Finishing second behind Park on Saturday Ross jumped into the lead on Sunday and didn’t look back. Park, who suffered engine trouble, finished way back in the pack giving Ross a 2nd and 1st place finishes and the points he needed to reclaim the title. Driver Steve Bolhuis also capitalized on the opportunity to take second place honors and even with problems Park managed a third overall.

DSR driver Josh Pearson makes a Sunday charge up the Crooked River during the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals.

Those who follow the Top ‘O’ can tell you that one of the best ongoing marathon rivalries is between DSR drivers Josh Pearson and Nick Ladd. “Nick Ladd gave me a present this year” said Pearson. Ladd failed to finish Saturday after breaking a seam on his boat bottom on Mullet Lake. Ladd had passed Pearson but after building a short five second lead broke down. “I saw him passing me and he looked over and waved at me.” said Pearson. Taking the win on Saturday Pearson was followed to the line by Ladd’s brother Jim. Returning out of Crooked Lake Sunday Jim Ladd was ahead of Pearson and in position to challenge for the title but a great strategic move on Josh’s part got him into the lead and on his way to his fifth overall and first back to back Top ‘O’ Championship with the Ladd brothers rounding off the podium, Jim second and Nick third.

JSR driver JR Broge heads into the Indian River during Saturday racing action at the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals.

There are a couple of good things about having only three entrants in your class. First is that you will finish on the podium and if it’s the JSR class it means you will gain some great Top ‘O’ experience. That’s the way it shaped up for this years JSR drivers. JR Broge took the top spot followed by Katie Jewell and William Affholter.

Superlight Bandit class top finishers Mike Green and Sally Johnson topped second place Led and Robert Hallenbeck and third place Charlie Brockway and Bryan Dycoff.

Tracey Phillips (left) and Matt Cupps (right) lead the Outlaw Superlights into the Indian River during the start of the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals.

If anyone in boat racing has a target on their back it is Harbor Spring residents Tracey Phillips and Matt Cupps who again win at the Top ‘O’ and continue their dominance of the Superlight Outlaw class. Shane Venier and Tina Honeysette gave it their best shot but had to settle for second just ahead of Mike and Linda Venier who claimed this year’s third place.

X class Superlight driver Scott Honeysette heads into the Indian River for his first time winners swim at the 2009 Top 'O' Michigan Marathon Nationals.

X-class Top ‘O’ racer Brian Lauer looked almost refreshed and well rested at the conclusion of Saturdays racing action but that’s probably because he had turned over the tiller to his long time co-pilot Ken Honeysette’s son Scott Honeysette. The Honeysette team drove the number 38 Superlight to the class win earning Scott his first Superlight title and the traditional first time winners swim in the Indian River. Jeff Howie and Lake Astin took second while Mark Hodorek and Gary Kowalewski finally claim a podium spot in third. It was a tough year, “there was a lot of reading the wind in the rivers this year” said Hoderek after excepting his award.

At race end, other than a few bruises and with some in need of minor hull repairs the 2009 event was injury free. This years marathon “went over real well, I’m real happy with it” said race director Tom Fairbairn. “Looking forward to 2010, if we could get to over a hundred boats I’d be the happiest guy in the world.”. The addition a “Classics” class to this years race drew four entrants who ran a short course that took them up the Indian River out into Mullet Lake and back.