Conditions pleasantly surprise drivers on Neches

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, April 30, 2016

PORT NECHES — The forecast left many at Port Neches Riverfest unsettled Saturday morning. But the weather must have made them smile.
“Everybody was panicking,” Wayne Barber said. “Everyone thought we were going to call the race and all of that. The weather was beautiful. Even when it’s bad, we don’t call the race. We may stall 30 or 40 minutes and let the front go through.”
Barber and his family have been heavily involved with Riverfest and its signature boat racing event, Thunder on the Neches, in each of its 15 years of existence. His wife Forest is the race organizer while Wayne and his son Hunter take part in the races.
The heavy clouds with rain and thunder that were forecast were absent from the sky above the Neches River as of Saturday afternoon, when the first wave of heats was held. Sunday’s action includes more heats to be followed by finals in four race classes.
“This is awesome compared to what they were talking about,” Hunter Barber said about the weather. “You couldn’t ask for a better day than this.”
The only obstacle that drivers in the top class, Formula 1, had to face once the green flag dropped was the tight first turn.
“There are a few of us that hit going into turn 1,” defending American Power Boat Association F1 champion Tim Seebold said. “So, it was tight out there on the start, first heat. But that’s OK, we got a second and third heat, so we’ll be all right.”
Drivers race in each heat, with the average finish for each driver determining the field for the final.
Seebold, of Osage Beach, Missouri, has never won at Thunder on the Neches, but he’s looking to top his third-place finish at his previous stop in Highlands. He finished second in his first heat.
Thunder on the Neches is a stop on the Southern Professional Outboard Racing Tour, which is now incorporated into the North American Speedboat Federation. Racing classes include SPORT F1, or Formula 1, Formula Lights, Tri-Hull (formerly known as Sport Stock) and J-Hydro.
The Barbers race in the Tri-Hull class, which features open-pit speedboats. Hunter Barber, a local tugboat captain, won his first heat Saturday and is going for his first title in the event.
“It’s not too much stock about them [Tri-Hull boats] anymore,” Wayne Barber said. “We get about twice the horsepower out of these boats as they originally were.
We’re pulling about 190 to 200 horsepower. That’s about all we can handle going down the straightaway. They’re just about airborne, about to lose it all the time.”

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About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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