airboats thunder on the Loup


by Amy Schweitzer
published: Sunday, 7 August 2011

PALMER — Several hundred people spent Sunday afternoon relaxing in a shady spot next to the Loup River about 9 miles northeast of Palmer.

It was serenely quiet as they talked with friends, every few minutes interrupted by the deafening roar of an airboat.

“That’s the thunder of Thunder on the Loup, ladies and gentlemen,” said John McHargue, announcer for the eighth annual event that brought about 100 boats and many more people to the area.

Thunder on the Loup 2011 - 01

Giving the crowd a thumbs up, Larry Buck of Bellevue celebrates his first-round win Sunday afternoon at Thunder on the Loup. Sunday’s big block modified and small block modified airboat drag races were double elimination.

The banks of the river were filled with those who were there for the first time and some who haven’t missed in eight years.

Jack Kramer of Hastings was at Thunder on the Loup for the first time. “It’s a unique event,” he said, adding that he was impressed with the setting and organization.

“I envisioned being in a pasture knee deep in weeds, but it’s just the opposite,” Kramer said as he sat at a picnic table on the neatly-mowed grassed bank. He said he also was impressed with the affordability of the event: The fee to watch the airboat races was just $5.

Meanwhile, down river a few hundred yards, Tammy Earnest of Palmer sat in front of her camper, which was parked in the spot a week before. “These are our spots,” she said with a laugh adding they have gotten the same spot every year for eight years.

“The river is very peaceful,” Earnest said with a laugh as an airboat roared past. She said that much of the day when before and after the races, it is very relaxing to sit by the river.

But it is the excitement of the obstacle course and drag races that bring together airboat enthusiasts from around the world. Peter Jones and his friends came from Brisbane, Australia, for the airboat races.

Two years ago, Darrell Starks of Waterloo helped him via e-mail to build an airboat. Starks told Jones about the airboat gathering in his home state and invited the Australian to come check it out. This year, he did.

Thunder on the Loup 2011 - 03

A group of young girls cooling off in the Loup River watch as air boats speed past them Sunday afternoon at Thunder on the Loup.

Although two of his friends, Graham and Tracie Dewar, also decided to get married in Las Vegas since they were in the states, the four Australians said other than Thunder on the Loup, they had no other plans for their month here.

“There’s no itinerary after this,” Jones said. “This was the main reason for coming,” added Gail Frisina, his friend.

He said there are very few airboats in Australia, especially in the Brisbane area. But he wanted to build one for many years.

“This is great,” Jones said of the event.

Jones said he had been looking at all the different boats and how they are set up. He said his has been finished for about five months, but it ended up different than it started.

“It started out as a wooden boat with a four-cylinder and it turned into an aluminium with a Chevy V8,” Jones said with a laugh.

Mark Kreikemeier of Snyder has built his share of air boats as well. Owner of Whitetail Airboats, he is on the board of directors of the Nebraska Airboaters Association.

“They have made a lot of improvements since then and probably will be making more each year,” he said of the Palmer event. One of the improvements this year was a real racing “Christmas tree” to signal go for the drag racers.

Thunder on the Loup 2011 - 04

Being pulled by an airboat, a man entertains the crowd before drag races at Thunder on the Loup Sunday afternoon on the Loup River near Palmer.

Kreikemeier has been to Thunder of the Loup for six of its eight years, but didn’t enter in the races this year because his boat was not running right.

He has driven on the Elkhorn, the Platte and the Loup rivers, and although the Platte’s gravel bottom helps his boat go faster, he admitted the Loup’s sand was easier on his feet when he got out to “enjoy a cold Pepsi.”

Oval races Sunday were for one boat at a time. The boats raced against the clock to try and finish with the fastest time. The drag races were run two boats at a time over 400 feet.

The oval races are a test of the driver’s skill and technique, McHargue noted, while the drag races are a matter of horsepower as well as the shape of the hull.

Bob Herring of Fremont, who won the big block modified drag race in double elimination, has a flat-bottom airboat. He beat Jason Theisen of Cedar Bluffs, Iowa, by barely six inches in the final race.

“It’s not the prettiest boat on the river,” McHargue said. “But it’s fast.”

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