WHEELING - The need for speed runs deep within virtually every driver at this weekend's Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta. Marv Hart is no exception, but this time he'd give anything to be standing on the sidelines.
Hart, a resident of Clayton, N.Y., worked alongside his son Kevin for more than four years, putting countless hours into restoring their boat, "Hart's Hustler," in preparation for its debut today at the regatta, which runs through this weekend at Heritage Port. Kevin, 47, didn't get to see the finished product - a sleek, gleaming red and white hull that belies the boat's true age of 45 years. He died Christmas Day, 2010, just a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
His father, who finished the project over the past several months, knows revving up that engine today will be a heartwrenching experience.
Photo by Ian Hicks
The vintage hydroplane “Hart’s Hustler” was unveiled Friday at WesBanco Arena, just prior to the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta’s annual kickoff dinner.
"It's going to be hard. Normally it would have been Kev that would have taken it out. ... He was usually the guinea pig," said Hart, who has attended every Wheeling regatta since the event's 2006 inception, in boats such as the "Jack of Harts" and "Canadiana Grand Prix."
He will have a bit of encouragement though. A message, "Ride with me - Sport," is inscribed on the boat's dash. "Sport" was Marv Hart's pet name for his son.
Kevin Hart's partner of 12 years, Kim Weibert, also traveled to Wheeling to see the boat unveiled at WesBanco Arena just prior to the regatta's annual kickoff dinner. She described Kevin as a "glass is half full kind of person" who showed passion in everything he did, from boat racing to scuba diving to cooking and hanging Christmas lights.
Kevin Hart gained some notoriety for the latter pursuit in the Denver area, where he and Weibert lived until his death, for his 80,000-bulb display that often drew visitors from several states away.
"Kevin would be thrilled," Weibert said. "He would be thrilled to see a dream fulfilled. ... Kevin will be right there with his dad, going fast, turning left and just having a great time."
After the emotional unveiling ceremony, boat drivers, event organizers and local dignitaries met for the regatta's annual kickoff dinner at the Health Plan Pavilion inside the arena. Following the meal, Jon Meriwether of Wellsburg was recognized with the Joe Kreitzer Memorial Trophy, presented annually to someone for their "spirit of helping out the sport" of powerboat racing.
Meriwether, owner of Merco Marine, is a member of the regatta committee and his company built the docks used by the regatta each year.
Regatta organizer Dan Joseph of Wheeling then presented Howie Benns of Grand Island, N.Y., and John Stauffer of Suffolk, Va., with the Henry Lauterbach Memorial Excellence in Powerboat Racing Award. Lauterbach, who died in 2006, was one of the premier names in boat building for several decades.
Don Kelson of Seattle was given the Boat Builder of the Year award. He has built more than 50 hydroplane boats since 1956, including several that set world speed records.
Opening ceremonies for today's regatta events will be at 9:45 a.m., with heats expected to start at around 10 a.m. and run until a noon lunch break. From 1:30-2 p.m., Sea Quest Kids participants will take their boats on the water, followed by another round of heats that will wrap up between 5 and 6 p.m. An evening of live music at the waterfront will follow.
Sunday will follow the same schedule as Saturday, except there will be no live music following the heats.
Other attractions include the Ohio Valley Hillhoppers and their remote-controlled airplane show, numerous food and craft vendors and displays from the Children's Museum of the Ohio Valley, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum, the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum of Bellaire and RiverWorks Discovery. A 2,200-gallon aquarium containing fish caught in front of Heritage Port by a crew from the Ohio River Sanitation Commission using a method called "electrofishing" also will be on display through the weekend.