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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Ticket #14: Race thrills, without wheels

This is the 14th in a series of 18 stories examining the best events an Indiana sports fan would want to see over a lifetime.

Racing and Indiana seem to go hand in hand. In fact, the Hoosier State is sometimes referred to as the Racing Capital of the World.

Everyone knows about the Indy 500, and if you ask NASCAR, the Brickyard 400 is still the second-biggest race of its season. There is the Little 500 bicycle race, the Twelve Mile lawnmower race and the NHRA U.S. National drags, among many others.

But all those races require wheels. The Madison Regatta doesn't.

If you ask three-time defending national champion hydroplane pilot Steve David what makes the Madison Regatta so special, he'd tell you it's like taking the Indy 500 and putting it on water.

David has a total of five national titles to his credit and drives the Oh Boy! Oberto, the hometown rig also known as Miss Madison.

Now in its 61st year, the regatta turns the small town of Madison – population 12,000 and change – into a bustling festival with nearly 60,000 visitors. Folks line both sides of the Ohio River to take in the hydroplane action.

Speaking of hydroplanes, these motor scooters ain't your daddy's speedboat. They are turbine-powered jets that glide on top of the water at speeds topping 200 mph and blast 40- to 50-foot roostertails toward the sky.

Anybody interested in racing can appreciate the sheer power of strapping a jet turbine on a boat. It's kind of like strapping a rocket to a G.I. Joe action figure and watching it fly.

But forget the racing for a moment. What race is any fun without a little partying? The regatta has plenty of that to offer. Opening day of the multi-day event features the regatta parade, and there are air shows, fireworks and concerts scattered through the weekend, usually planned around the Fourth of July.

Merchants line the road along the river, offering festival fare, T-shirts, jewelry and just about anything racing enthusiasts might want.

Next July, see for yourself if you agree with David's assessment. Load up the camper, point it toward southeast Indiana and go take in with awe the wall of water that blasts around every turn and the sound of the turbines as they whiz by.

The Madison Regatta really is like the Indy 500 – only on water.