Hear Them Roar

Madison Vintage Thunder
returns to the Ohio River

Madison Tool & Die sends employees
on service missions

(September 2020) – NOT cancelled! Madison Vintage Thunder 2020 has not been cancelled, in spite many COVID-19 challenges. “We want everyone in Madison (Ind.) to be able to come, all of Madison,” said Mike Fine, board member of the newly organized not-for-profit, the National Boat Racing Heritage Center. The formation of Heritage Center Board is the newest project of the 5-to-the-5 Club, the originator and sponsor of Vintage Thunder. 
The fifth annual Vintage Thunder event is scheduled for Sept 19-20 on the Ohio River in Madison.

Dave Johnson

Photo provided

Dave Johnson and his late wife, Jean, are pictured in this collage that also feature’s Johnson’s vintage hydroplane “Quilters Forever.”

“The race is really an exhibition,” Fine explained. The free admission is a “Thank You” to Madison and the surrounding community for all the efforts to cope with the COVID-19 challenges. It is also designed to bring people to Madison and make them want to come back. The club has worked with the city of Madison and the Jefferson County Health Department to ensure the event can be operated safely. The outdoor riverfront venue provides adequate space for social distancing.
“The city of Madison has been involved in boat racing on the Ohio River for nearly three-quarters of a century and is known nationally for hosting races and being the only community owned team with Miss Madison,” said Madison’s Mayor Bob Courtney. “As the sport has continued to evolve, a new sport such as the 5-to-the-5 vintage hydroplane race has emerged, harkening back to the original Thunder on the Ohio in every sense of the word. This sport not only reminds all of us of our history, but due to the energy and dedication of the event organizers, it brings another unique festival to the banks of the Ohio at Madison, Ind., where we rely on tourism to support our local economy and our quality of life. I’m grateful for their dedication in a year as challenging as this and look forward to not only the 5-to-the-5 event but also to the National Boat Racing Heritage Center that is under development.”
One of the highlights this year was generous donation from John Freeman of his vintage hydroplane, Miss Atlas Van Lines. The boat was originally used in the 2005 movie, “Madison,” the story about the storybook 1971 Gold Cup victory by Miss Madison driver Jim McCormick. The group hopes the vintage boat will be a centerpiece of a future museum.
“We will restore it, run it, take care of it and display it. We are grateful for this generous donation from John Freeman,” said Fine, 64. He anticipates that it will be ready in the summer of 2021. 
Madison Vintage Thunder 2020 will honor Jean Johnson, wife of Dave Johnson, 62, co-founder with Rob Holt of the 5-to-the-5 Club. Jean died unexpectedly in June from a blood clot in her leg.
“I’ve known Jean my whole life because I grew up living next to her family,” Dave said. “It was her brother, Russ Wiley, that got me involved with hydroplanes.”
Dave started out washing parts in 1971. Two years later, he became part of the Miss Madison team. In 1983, he and Jean were married. While the men worked on the boats, their wives became quilters. When Dave bought his own hydroplane in 1999, he named it Quilters Forever.
“She never complained; she always supported me and was right there. I supported her quilting as much as she supported my boat racing. We had a wonderful relationship,” Dave said.
Johnson’s next passion is the National Boat Racing Heritage Center. “My favorite thing right now is remembering the day Trey Holt wheeled his bicycle to my door. He wanted to do something with the boats. He told me, ‘I’ll try to do whatever you want me to do.’ He absorbed everything like a sponge. Next, he bought his own vintage race boat and we restored it,” Johnson said.
The vision for the National Boat Racing Heritage Center is to be a place where other kids could learn to work on boats, learn to read blueprints, learn about engineering in a hands-on way, maybe even help wash parts. “That’s our vision – just walk in and help,” Johnson added.
That kind of opportunity means a lot. Trey Holt, (James Robert Holt III), remembers “I was in love with the boats. I rode my bike over to the shop one day in 2015 when basketball practice was canceled. The first thing Dave had me do was take the bottom off a sponson (side wings that touch the water). I had some background from wood shop class in school, so I just drilled out all the screws to get it off. Then in 2016, Dave helped me find a boat to buy for myself. I named it, Natural High. My best memory of working with Dave is just after I bought my boat. He came by to see what I was doing on the boat and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ ”
Those words are just what every kid needs to hear. For Trey, now 22, that experience is what led to the opportunity to work on the Miss Madison team, the dream job of every kid who has ever seen a boat race.
The board envisions even more for the National Boat Racing Heritage Center. It will be a showcase of all kinds of vintage boats. Tours will be offered to groups and schools. Classrooms will be available for presentations. In the beginning it will be staffed with volunteers. Already, people have offered to help one or two days per week, even driving a distance to be part of this start-up.
“The vision is also to create another reason to bring people to Madison and make them want to come back. Madison is different, it’s beautiful,” Fine said.
The growth of Vintage Thunder and the development of the National Boat Racing Heritage Center will require continued support and investment. Another board member, Cary Strouse, 50, explained, “There has been more excitement and more interest from boat owners and teams this year. With 30 boats already confirmed by mid-August, Vintage Thunder could see the highest boat count this year.”
However, more boats means more expense for the event. Since the event is free to the public this year, additional sponsors and donations are still needed. Tax-deductible donations to support the Vintage Thunder event and the National Boat Racing Heritage Center can be sent to: Historic Hoosier Hills RC & D, 1981 S. Industrial Park Rd. #1, Versailles, IN 47042.

• For more information, visit www.5tothe5.com.

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