For the fourth year the Tunnel boats will be showing

their stuff on the Sabine River. “We are expecting about 60 boats and drivers

to be with us this year. We will race in four classes, Formula One, Formula

Light, Tri-Hulls, and J-Hydros. The J-Hydro class is for youngsters ages 8 to

12. It is a fun class to watch, but the kids are as serious as the adults. The

Formula One class will replace the SST class that we have had in the past. The

difference is that the motors are bigger in the Formula One, some of these

boats will reach 150 miles per hour.” Said Darlene Zavada, of the Orange

Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The popular annual event will once again be held at

the Orange Public Boat Ramp on Simmons Drive. Admission and parking are free. There

are only a few things not allowed. They include no ice chests, or coolers, no

pets, no bicycles, and no skateboards.

“We ask that

people be considerate of others, we want everyone to come out and have a good

time and be respectful of other’s rights. We will allow folks to set up

canopies, but this year we are limiting that to the top of the levee. In the

past canopies have been set up anywhere on the levees and the canopies have

blocked the view of other people. This year we ask those with canopies to stay

on top of the levee to make the races more enjoyable for all,” said Zavada.

The area around the boat ramp always resembles a

fair more than a boat race. There will be food vendors selling everything from

ice cream to pork-a-bobs and almost anything available at any county fair.

There will be arts and crafts. For the kids there will be a petting zoo, bounce

houses, and among other things, a water slide. “Kids wanting to go on the water

slide need to plan ahead and bring appropriate gear,” said Zavada.

A new feature this year will be a retired racing

boat. Fans will be able to have a hands on experience, even to the point of

sitting in the boat’s cockpit. The boat would be a great photo opportunity for

those bringing a camera.

“This year we will be selling pit passes. Those

buying a pass can go to the pit area and see close up what it takes to get

these boats ready to run. They can visit with the mechanics and drivers. It

will be a unique opportunity,” said Zavada.

The oval race course only covers 1500 feet. For boats

reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour and as much as 150 miles per hour,

there is a lot of excitement. When things happen they happen very fast. In case

of a crash the drivers are protected by a capsule that ejects them like a pilot

ejects from a jet fighter. Tunnel boats are the elite class of boat racing and

Orange is fortunate to attract such a high degree of boat racing. Crowds for

the two day event have reached as high as 15,000.

The boat inspections will start at 8:00 a.m.,

Saturday, September 24 and the days’ events will follow. On Sunday, September

25, the Formula One trials will begin at 9:00 a.m. “The Formula One trials are

almost as exciting as the races. The drivers push their boats almost to the

limit. The faster they go the higher they are rated for the races,” said

Zavada. “We were disappointed that we could not have the races the year Ike hit

us, but there was just too much trash in the river for us to try to race.

Safety is the most important thing and we did not want to risk a life for a

race. Since that year we have been bigger and better each year. We hope a lot

of fans come out for the races and that everyone has a great time. It is truly an

event for the whole family.”