Monday, August 2, 2010

2010 Top O' Michigan Marathon Nationals

As always, having the right gear to meet the weather conditions was the key to winning at the 2010 Top O’ Michigan Marathon Nationals. Unlike most years though it wasn’t wind, waves or rain that made the Top O’ experience unique. This year it was all about speed.

The weather gods threw two perfect days at the 83 boats that showed up to participate in this years event. As the runabouts and super lights lined up off the DeVoe Park beach on Saturday and Sunday big Burt Lake was calm enough that you could have run hydros. It was so calm that the only thing that slowed drivers from running the entire course at full throttle were a few of the sharper river turns and pleasure boat wakes.

If you have never attended the Top O’ you might find it hard to believe but this years two day crowd total was estimated to well exceed the ten thousand mark. Fans took advantage of the warm weather filling viewing areas to capacity as they cheered on their favorite drivers. With John Broge calling the race over the pits PA system spectators there enjoyed the action as real time information was relayed from patrol boats and checkpoints. Last years addition of a Classic group to the marathon brought the total number of classes in the event to ten. The small group of Classic’s ran a modified version of the course that included the entire length of the Indian River and a small part of Mullet Lake.

Both JSR and ASR classes saw marked increases in the number of entrants. Seven JSR drivers made the start on Saturday but only three made the finish after mechanical problems and a very rare multiple boat accident. By Sunday morning all seven drivers were back in the pits and four of them took to the water to complete the second leg of the event. “It was awesome” said Indian Rivers Katie Jewell who was the first of what would become four first time winners at this years Top O’. As the JSR winner Jewell also gets to add her name to the event’s Don Allen Memorial Trophy.

ASR also saw a first time champion as Canadian driver Dan Elliot (photo left) managed to string together two consistent finishes to beat out a field of twelve other drivers and claim his first marathon nationals title. Running in his fourth Top O’ Elliot said, “The water was great this weekend, you couldn’t ask for anything better I’ve never seen it this calm, especially both days.” “Today (Sunday) everywhere was just perfect. Everything just fell into the right place for me this weekend”

BSR drivers seemed to have the toughest time this year. With more than thirty Top O’ appearances under his belt defending BSR Champion Gene Greenacre took the checkered Saturday ahead of son Brian (in photo right) and long time Top O’ racers Chris and Amanda Hagerl. After not being able to finish Saturday the Hagerls needed to catch a break from the Greenacre team on Sunday and they got one from Gene when his engine exploded but Brain ran a flawless Sunday race to capture the win.

After a first on Saturday 25SSR driver Charlie Smith, who started his driving career as a JSR driver at the Top O’ in 2003, was the first boat back to the Indian River on Sunday on his way to the class championship. “It was pretty nice.” said Smith, “Really calm, quite a few boat wakes. You could pretty much go full throttle, I never really cracked it. I got up on the front of it and tried not to blow it over.”

With 2009 winner Tim Ross sidelined the CSR class was up for grabs. Winner Mark Kurz had to take on the one of the events most competitive group of drivers including perennial favorite Kim Park of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Kurz took advantage of a navigational error Park made on Saturday to take the first day win and then ran a flat out perfect leg on Sunday to finish first again and claim his first Top O’ title in three attempts. “I got real break with the weather today, and this weekend” said Kurz. At the post race awards ceremony Kurz raised his hands high in the air in celebration and gladly yelled “I’M GOING SWIMMING!” as other drivers tossed him into the Indian River for the traditional first time winner dunk.

DSR defending champ Josh Pearson’s father Gordon was confident about his sons chances to repeat as he talked with spectators Friday night and he was right. The younger Pearson finished first both days ahead of second place contender Jim Ladd of Alanson to claim his third consecutive DSR championship. “It was definitely a top end, full throttle, speed weekend.” said Pearson after completing Sunday.

The Superlights also made another strong showing at this years Top O’. Tracey Phillips and Matt Cupps repeated in the Outlaw Class “It was calm both days, I’ve never seen it this nice.” said Tracey. Charlie Brockway and Seth Churchhill brought home the Bandit honors while Jeff Korpal and Josh Jaynes claimed their first Top O’ title in the X-class. Veteran driver Bob Hartman switched rides this year going from a runabout to Superlight but his first attempt at the Top O’ course ended just a few hundred yards short of the finish line on Saturday when he and his co-pilot took an abrupt right hand turn wound up parked in the woods on the courses final turn. Neither was injured and they drove back to the pits but they did not compete on Sunday.

The Classic group got off to a slow start but had spectators curious and looking for more information about the class. Ron Oswalt finished both days to take top honors while Vintage Hydroplane driver Hal LeDuc Jr. (photo left) of Commerce, Michigan made his first Top O’ appearance. “I’ve got a young family and this seems like a special event.” said LeDuc who is picking the Top O’ as his only outboard race of the year. Driving a refurbished boat named “The Dean” in honor of his grandfather, long time Detroit News sports writer Harry LeDuc who was known as the “Dean of Motorsports” Hal had mechanical problems on Saturday but after a few attempts on Sunday he got to complete at least part of the course.

The Top O’ Michigan club also recognized the tireless efforts of the races chief scorer Mary Ellen Hagerl (photo above). After almost thirty years as a race volunteer an emotional Hagerl was left almost speechless as she excepted the club’s annual Fred Kenny Sportsmanship award.

“It was a good race this year, really calm water. I‘ve had nothing but good comments from everybody.” said race director Tom Fairbairn. “Huge, big, big, big” was how he described crowds. “Alanson the 68 bridge, packed. The sandbar on Crooked Lake was completely full.” “All the drivers said they couldn’t believe how many spectators there were.” Looking forward to next year when the Top O’ will follow the Short Course Nationals in Wakefield, Michigan Fairbairn hopes to see even a better turnout of drivers at the 2011 race. “We’re still trying to get to a hundred, I’m real positive about it.”