Making waves: Drag boat racing finds home at Buckeye’s Hidden Lake

Rob Miller, in his boat Old School, makes a run at Hidden Lake near Buckeye during last month’s Spring Shootout, sponsored by the Arizona Drag Boat Association. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

Donald Wilson started racing drag boats 21 years ago, but the Spring Shootout last month was only his second time out since picking the sport back up. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

Drivers waiting for the lanes to clear hold their place by grabbing a rope draped across Hidden Lake. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

Arizona Drag Boat Association races have 10 competition classes: Personal Water Craft, River Racer, Stock Eliminator, Modified Eliminator, Top Eliminator, Pro Eliminator, Quick Eliminator, Blown Gas Flat, Pro Outlaw and Top Alcohol Flat. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

Paramedics are on standby at the Arizona Drag Boat Association’s Spring Shootout in the event of an accident on the water. Boats in top competitor classes can reach 200 mph. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

Rick Barretta competes in the Pro Outlaw class, which requires the driver to be in a capsule. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

BUCKEYE – Just south of Buckeye’s city center and north of the Gila River sits Hidden Lake, a quiet and secluded 120-acre recreation area.

When the drag boats arrive, however, it is a place bustling with activity and entertainment and has become a popular destination for the sport’s competition in the desert.

Hidden Lake is home to many events put on by the Arizona Drag Boat Association, which feature intense quarter-mile races with speeds hitting close to 200 mph.

“The weather, the people, the openness, the high desert here, it’s just beautiful,” said Jimmy Todd, the association’s rescue director.

In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the association held only two events, including one at Hidden Lake. So far in 2021, it has hosted three races there, most recently the Spring Shootout on April 2 to 4. Three more are scheduled for Buckeye as well.

Each event takes place from Friday to Sunday. Friday is used as a testing and tuning day for the racers, who take advantage of their practice runs to make adjustments for the weekend, when the competitive races begin.

“What works in Kentucky for their boats may not work here,” Todd said.

Saturdays are qualifying days. Based on their best times, drivers are ranked and seeded, and they are put against other drivers, similar to other tournament brackets, with the top time matching up with the lowest time.

On Sunday, those pairings are put into a traditional tournament bracket for each class of boats, with the winners of each race moving on to the next round until a champion is crowned.

The racers are a close-knit group. Many even travel across the country to participate in other drag boat racing association competitions as well when Buckeye is not hosting any racing.

“They hate each other from 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock, but after that they are buddies again,” Todd said.

Tanya Scribner, left, and Tara Scribner are sisters who share a passion for drag boat racing, a typically male-dominated sport. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

The Scribner family of Lake Havasu city has two racers with the Arizona Drag Boat Association, sisters Tanya, 32, and Tara, 19. Their grandparents drove drag cars, and when Tanya tried racing a boat, she was hooked. A few years later, Tara rode along and was hooked as well.

Often, the sisters will find themselves racing each other, which leads to a unique sibling rivalry.

“It’s extremely competitive … but it’s fun when you get to race your sister,” Tanya said.

At the Spring Shootout, the Scribner sisters were two of only three females racing, and for Tara, being one of the only women competing is a sense of pride, especially when she sees little girls watching.

“I like seeing little girls coming up to me and saying they want to race now because they see I do it and my sister does it so I feel like it helps inspire kids to get into this,” Tara said.

For those interested in racing, Todd said the process includes registering as a member with the drag boat association and having your boat scrutinized for safety.

The Scribners said anyone can participate, adding that the drag boat community is welcoming and helpful to those who want to try it.

“Anybody who has a boat can come out and race, that’s the great thing about this organization. Anybody can do it,” Tanya said.

For those interested in just watching, fans are currently welcomed in limited numbers, and the atmosphere provides activities for all ages.

“(TopWater) Cantina here is real family friendly,” Todd said about the dining area at the lake that offers a variety of food and drink options.

Todd applauded the work that club president Jeremy Denny has put in to make Hidden Lake a spot where drivers want to compete.

“If you were here last year, you wouldn’t have recognized this place,” Todd said. “They’ve really done a nice job.”

Some of the changes included adding turf areas, moving the track, moving dirt and adding water.

It’s the latest effort to make Hidden Lake the premier destination for Arizona races, Todd said.

(Video by Zach Larsen/Cronkite News)
Dylan Wilhelm DIL-lun WIL-helm (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dylan Wilhelm expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Wilhelm, who has worked for The State Press, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Alina Nelson uh-LEE-nuh nEHl-suhn
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alina Nelson is a sports journalist and photographer who expects to graduate in August 2021. Nelson, who has seven years of photography experience, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.