Boat racing underway this weekend on Grand Lake

Rick Miller, a Grove, Oklahoma, dentist and hydroplane racer, takes a test run on Friday before the start of this weekend's races on Grand Lake. Thunder on Wolf Creek continues today at Wolf Creek Park in Grove.Globe | Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller

The sound of thunder on Grand Lake this weekend won’t be caused by rain.

Instead, the thundering sounds of hydroplane and runabout boats will fill the air as the annual David Kane’s Thunder on Wolf Creek takes place.

The three-day event, which began with test runs on Friday, continues from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, all at Wolf Creek Park in Grove.

The races, which are free to attend, are organized by Dr. Leonard Miller, a retired dentist and long-time racing enthusiast.

Observers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs to sit under the trees that line the cove. The oval race course is visible from the shoreline. Additionally, participants have a chance to meet and visit with drivers between races, as most teams set up crew areas on the parking lot closest to the water.

Leonard Miller’s race team "What’s Up Doc,'' which features members of his family, is one of the 20 teams from around the United States taking part in the various heats.

Miller's grandson, Braxton Miller, enters the race coming off of a national championship win in upper Michigan. Miller's son, Dr. Rick Miller, brings decades of experience with multiple championships under his belt. Teammate Tera Cook is fresh off of a first place win at the U.S. Title Series at Lake DePue in DePue, Illinois.

While Leonard Miller no longer races, he serves as the race manager and crew chief for the team, which gets its name from a drawing his uncle placed on one of his first boats in 1954, honoring Bugs Bunny. It gained a new meaning after both Leonard and and Rick Miller entered the dentistry profession.

Grove racer Patrick Kane, representing Hurrikane Racing, is expected to compete in his third Thunder on Wolf Creek.

Kane, 15, began racing at the age of 12 under the mentoring of Rick Miller. His racing crew includes his mother, Sylvia Kane.

This year’s race is named after Kane’s father, David, a member of the Oklahoma Boat Racing Association, who died a year ago.

Flying over the water

Leonard Miller said hydroplane races are not predictable, as boats “fly over the top of the water, over a cushion of air.” He said drivers concentrate on the water right in front of them."

Additional unpredictability in the heats comes with how the racers are affected by other boats and wind.

Hydroplane racers race sitting on their knees. Boats go between 67 to 95 miles per hour using a 30 hp motor. The boats are shaped like an airplane, with the design causing the aerodynamics to slide along the water.

"They are very light with powerful motors that produce high speeds," Leonard Miller said. "There's a physics to it. A race can be won or lost within 10 minutes — because of all of the split second decisions."

Rick Miller said water conditions are almost perfect for the races. He hopes overnight, southwest winds will blow trash — brought into the cove by recent rains — out of the racers way.

Rick Miller’s racing career spans more than 40 years. He got his start at the age of 14, at the encouragement of his father.

While he said his fellow competitors are like family, racing on Grand Lake in front of his friends brings a bit of pressure.

“You definitely want to win in front of a hometown crowd,” Rick Miller said with a grin.

Ultimately, though, Rick Miller said his decision to keep racing comes down to a desire for competition.

“Whether I’m going 60 or 80, I just like beating someone and trying to win,” he said. “When you are out driving by yourself, it’s not really a big deal. But when you’ve got 10 to 12 boats in a race, it gets crazy with the speed and spray. It definitely gets your heart pumping.”

How It Began

In 2013, Leonard Miller decided to bring Thunder on Wolf Creek to Grand Lake. The newest venture models a series of races Leonard Miller hosted on Grand Lake for 14 years, beginning in the early 1970s.

Leonard Miller said the creation of Wolf Creek Park, a public fishing dock and launching point located at 963 N. 16th St. in Grove, has provided an "excellent" place to put on an event.

He said members of the Grove Fire Department, along with members of the Grand River Dam Authority Police, will be present to ensure the safety of racers and spectators alike.

For more information, or for scheduling updates, persons interested may visit www.facebook.com/ThunderOnWolfCreek.

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