Wednesday, August 19 2009
EVANSVILLE - Unlimited hydroplane boats will be tearing up the Ohio River this weekend, but Thunder on the Ohio won't be like previous years. Since it split from the Freedom Festival, the event is expected to have a completely different vibe.
Barbeque, bands, beer and of course, boats will be wrapped around Evansville's downtown riverfront. That's where Thunder on the Ohio organizers hope racing fans from all over the Midwest will hang out for this weekend's event. It's a change of course for the annual race, in its 31st year.
"We're very optimistic," says Tom Sawyer, Chairman, Thunder on the Ohio. "We've put together a package I think that will attract a lot of people."
Boat races are the main attraction, but organizers hope concerts, barbeque and beer gardens will offer race fans more bang for the $15 button. Classic rock and country music will rock the riverfront: the Marshall Tucker Band is booked for Friday night. On Saturday, Travis Tritt and Jack Ingram are scheduled to perform.
Throughout the weekend, the Rib America Festival will take place as nationally ranked teams compete. Beer gardens will also be open Friday and Saturday nights under the Casino Aztar Pavilion.
Ticket sales are being marketed all over the Midwest, including Nashville, St. Louis, Louisville, and Indianapolis. NEWS 25 wanted to know how confident organizers are about sales since the Freedom Festival didn't attract large crowds. "We're always concerned. This is always the point where we just don't know how many we're going to sell. We just don't know," Sawyer says.
Sawyer says conditions are perfect for the races. The Army Corps of Engineers reports that the Ohio River's level will be at 14 feet, which is better than previous years.
As for the unlimited hydroplanes, a fleet of 11 boats are expected to be in the pit area. The American Boat Racing Association teams will test Saturday morning with qualifying set for the afternoon. All elimination heat and the championship finals will take place on Sunday.
Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the gate.