“It all started in 1975, when two Burley residents who shared an interest in flatbottom jetboat racing approached the mayor and city council for permission to use the marina and hold a race…”
The following story was published in the Idaho Magazine May 2020 issue and was sponsored by Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel
Idaho magazine has been publishing stories directly from local Idahoans since 2001. These stories illustrate the roots of our state and help connect us all through the history of our communities. You can order a printed copy of Idaho Magazine here.
The Idaho Regatta
Lured Back by the Roar
STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT KUNAU
“You!” Ron “Mad Dog” Bolton barked at me during the Idaho Regatta’s Friday night testand-tune in 1981. “Borrow that helmet and that racing life jacket, and come on. You’re going for a ride.”
The ride he meant was in the K-9 Kelron Racing Special—one of the hottest flatbottom, super-charged race boats ever to grace the regatta. That year, his boat went on to win the coveted Mink Coat for the time that is closest to, or surpasses, the world record for a racing class (his class was the K-Racing Runabout). I suited up, climbed into the boat and sat on the floor. Ron told me to brace my foot against the metal housing that held part of the propeller drive and hold on to the steering column. This was awkward, but at least I could still see all around me. He turned the key, the engine purred to a roar, and we were off. The ride lasted roughly three laps around the course. Going down the front and back straightaways, we hit near top speed of about 140 m.p.h. Ron backed off in the corners just like he would in a real race.
I think it’s likely I’m the only reporter who ever rode in a K-boat at race speed at the Idaho Regatta. It was one of the most exciting rides I’ve ever had and one that I wrote about in a boat racing magazine soon afterwards. After that ride with “Ronnie” (as he was known to many), I was hooked on boat racing, speed, loud engines, power, and even the smells of racing fuel. I wanted to buy, own, and drive a race boat—although I’m not sure that item will ever be ticked off my bucket list.
LEFT: Mike Stockowned K-999 El-Cid, piloted by Ty Newton. RIGHT: Engine builder and boat owner Glen Ward with K-751 E.T. Special.
Ron and his family came annually to Burley, the home of the Idaho Regatta, although they came twice in 1982, when the town hosted the American Powerboat Association’s (APBA) National Flatbottom Championships. Each year, they traveled from Long Beach, California, with a group of K-boat racers, owners, and families. Many other race boats and their teams in different classes also arrived for the regatta, including Super Stock, Pro Stock, Sportsman Entry (SE), Grand National, Comp and Ski Jet, several hydroplane classes, Crackerbox, and even a few drag boats. A lot of these racers and their families became my friends, and I looked forward to each June, when the boat race invaded Burley for a weekend.
Bill and Marlene Faulkner of Utah became close regatta friends of mine in the early 1980s. Bill drove SS-70 Hot Canary to win two regatta Mink Coats. Like most of my racer friends back then, he would always lend a helping hand to a relatively new reporter at the races. Upon Bill’s passing, Marlene created the Bill Faulkner Memorial Trophy, which bears the name of each Mink Coat winner. Sadly, Ron and a number of my friends from that time have passed away, but others will be at the Burley Golf Course Marina this June for the regatta’s forty-fifth annual running.
50 IDAHO magazine BURLEY ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Spectators during a “shoot out” race; Ron “Mad Dog” Bolton with K-9 Kelron Racing Special; K-95 Silver Bullet driver Ron Magrin wasn’t hurt in this spectacular 1985 regatta K-boat crash.
It all started in 1975, when two Burley residents who shared an interest in flatbottom jetboat racing approached the mayor and city council for permission to use the marina and hold a race. The council approved the request, and the regatta began that summer. Both those founders, Don Moyle and Glen Dilworth, became my friends. When Don passed away early last year, the 2019 race was named the Don Moyle Memorial Idaho Regatta. In a moving tribute, his son Mark drove his Comp Jet race boat slowly around the course, scattering his father’s ashes as he drove by the main spectator and boat launch area.
The regatta has been canceled twice over its history, both times because of high water in the Snake River. Neither race was rescheduled, but this one will still be called the forty-fifth annual regatta.
My first experience with the race was during its fourth running, in the summer of 1979. I was in high school, and it was my first summer working for the South Idaho Press, Burley’s daily newspaper. I was tasked by the sports editor to take pictures and report on the event.
My introduction to newspaper work had begun the previous school year, when I attended a two-meeting class for the Boy Scouts’ Journalism Merit Badge. Afterwards, editor Mike Feiler asked if I would be interested in becoming the paper’s Burley High School correspondent.
My job would be to write stories about high school events and take a few pictures. I accepted the challenge, which set the stage for a class I took each day at the newspaper office, and for full-time work in the summers between my high school and college years. In 1985, I graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism, thanks to Mike Feiler, the South Idaho Press, and the Boy Scouts.
After reporting on the 1979 regatta, I was hooked. The excitement of the competition and, of course, the racers and families who traveled from all over the United States, made the event very special for me. I not only continued to cover the races, but also helped with publicity and worked extensively on race programs. For the 1982 APBA National Championship races, the South Idaho Press advertising and production staff and I created a multi-page program with color photos and descriptions of the race classes, course, and everything else a spectator would need to know for the race. I still have a box that includes all the “pasteup” sheets for this program, which I looked through in preparing to write this story of a trip down memory lane.
Interestingly, many people thought the APBA championships would draw few boats and teams willing to make a second trip to Burley that September, because the seventh annual regatta had been held in June. Others said the term “National” would confuse race fans, and the spectator count would be down. Both ideas were far from what actually happened. More boats that ever before attended the annual race and the spectator areas were beyond capacity for the two-day event.
In 1985, when I was fresh out of college with my journalism degree, I bought a top-of-the-line camera with a six frames-per-second motor drive and a telephoto and wide-angle zoom lens. Little did I know that an amazing but catastrophic looking boat crash sequence awaited my fast shooting camera and sharp-focused lens as I stood near the starting line for the regatta’s K-boat finals.
It was a clear and hot Saturday afternoon. The races featured the top eight fastest boats in the two qualifying heats held earlier in the day. I positioned myself on the riverbank near the starting line. Looking through the camera viewfinder with both eyes open (which I always do when photographing), I saw all eight K-boats as they roared towards the starting line of the three-lap final race. Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw Ron Magrin’s K-95 Silver Bullet hit waves from other boats and begin to roll up on its side, which is called “chining.” It rolled up once, twice, and then blew over, starting to barrel-roll as the other boats zoomed by. I held the motor drive button down for the roughly three-second crash. Ron was thrown clear of the wreck and was not seriously injured.
“I got it!” I exclaimed, to no one in particular. Spectators gave me a quizzical look, wondering who this exuberant kid with the camera was. I couldn’t wait to see the developed color slide film. The pictures of the crash sequence were spectacular, crystal clear. You could see Ron flying through the air. He spent only one precautionary night in the hospital but, as might be expected, his boat was destroyed.
ABOVE K-39 The Outlaw; a boat readies for launch.
The South Idaho Press put a three-shot sequence of Ron’s crash on the Sunday morning front page. To this day, I have about twenty copies of that newspaper in a box. I also had nine of the photos printed and arranged on a large poster. I still have that poster in my office . . . more than thirty-five years later.
Typically, I would sit on the deck of one of the rescue boats at one corner or the other of the race course for a full heat on each of the regatta’s two days. That’s about four hours in the hot sun, but the view of the races close to the cornering was beyond spectacular. I recorded a number of multiple-boat cornering duels, and I was right on top of a few boats rolling over as they cornered too fast or in too much water turbulence. Fortunately, no driver was ever seriously hurt, but equipment, engines, and boats were damaged. Often, I didn’t fare well in terms of sunburn, but the interesting angle photos taken for the newspaper and for magazines more than made up for it.
When I left Idaho for a job in Ohio, I missed a number of years of the regatta. After learning that more than twenty-two K-boats, along with dozens of other boats, invaded Burley in 1992, I wished I could have been in Idaho for that race. Race heats are limited to six or eight boats per class, which meant the number of races that year would have made the ticket price invaluable to me. I made it back to Burley for short summer vacations in the 1990s and 2000s and if the regatta was in town, I enjoyed the races and, more importantly, rekindled friendships with racers and their families.
My ninety-seven-year-old grandma accompanied me to a race in the late-1990s. I have photos of her standing in the pits watching the action. I’m not sure if she understood my passion but I know she had fun with me on that Sunday afternoon.
My family and I moved back to Idaho in mid2016, but unfortunately we were too late for the regatta that year. I attended part of the race in 2017 and was surprised that some drivers and boat owners I knew from the 1980s were there to enjoy it. I found the race to be almost identical to years past: six boats launched at a time, race teams were strategically positioned across the entire marina parking lot, and the golf course driving range was completely full of cars, RVs, and tents that had been set up at the far end of the range. The pit area walkways were marked off and spectators sat in lawn chairs or on the lawn to watch the action. Spectator numbers seemed to be fewer than for early regattas but the excitement level and enthusiasm were very similar.
During that 2017 event, I bumped into 1980s racer Jim Newton from Laveen, Arizona. Instead of driving an “unblown” flatbottom boat, he was there to help and support his son Ty, an expert-level driver in multiple race classes, including K-boats and unblown flatbottoms. Jim and I immediately began reminiscing about regattas of the 1980s. He told me he continues to come to Burley for the regatta because the people are so supportive of the event, and because they’re so friendly. Jim was at last year’s event and I expect he and Ty will and their team will be there this year.
Another race driver who has come to Burley to drive since the early 1980s is Duff Daley of Stuart, Florida. A decades-long racing veteran, he drives K-777 War Eagle, which is a K-boat owned and tuned by Boise-based race boat owner and engine manufacturer Mike Stock. Like Duff, Mike has been a regular attendee of the Idaho Regatta since the early 1980s. Ty Newton drives another of Stock’s K-boats, K-999 El Cid, along with his own SS/PS-80.
There is a race-within-a race called “The Shootout.” The format for this special race includes eight boats from four classes (SE, Unblown Flat, SS, and K-boats). At the 2019 event, the four classes started fifteen seconds apart. with the K-boats fortyfive seconds behind the SE class. The three-lap format saw Duff in War Eagle destroy the forty-fivesecond deficit to win by more than one-half of a lap— nearly ten seconds ahead of the next finisher.
I walked up to Duff as he was celebrating the win and said, “Sir, you have no fear.”
He smiled and said, “That was a fun one.”
Duff added that he enjoys racing at Burley because of the course, the facilities, the race organization, and the spectators.
One of SE boats drivers commented, “When War Eagle came up behind me and then moved around me, the vibration and noise were unlike anything I’ve ever felt or heard from a boat.”
After the 2017 race, I wondered how I could get reinvolved in the regatta. I approached friends who knew committee members and asked them to drop my name. Even though I now live in the Boise area, I felt I could bring something to the regatta committee. Since I run an Idaho business, I asked about sponsorship of the race. Regatta chairman Louis Schindler explained the various levels of sponsorship and I decided to participate.
He invited me to join the committee, and I brought along my history of the regatta to help with sponsorship and publicity. One of my goals includes landing a national or global motor sports-friendly company to be a title sponsor. As with any racing event, the more sponsorships we get, the higher will be the payout of prizes to racers and their teams.
I’ll remain involved in coming years, because the friendships I’ve forged at the Idaho Regatta are irreplaceable. I want us all to enjoy a fiftieth annual race, and more.