First-timers at the Follies

By the Herald staffJuly 26, 2010 

Ethan Felicetti got a better view of the hydroplanes racing on the Columbia River by climbing onto his dad's shoulders.

The 4-year-old Prosser boy watched the boats zip past with his eyes glued to the water and his mouth agape.

It was his first time at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup -- and he wasn't alone.

Plenty of newcomers mixed with longtime fans Sunday, the final day of Water Follies. The races have been in the Tri-Cities for 45 years.

Ethan's family braved the heat because the little boy became hooked on hydros after learning about them from an uncle. The family was looking forward to "seeing his reaction," said mom Erin Felicetti, standing between heats on the Kennewick side. "It's mostly for him."

The event brought thousands of people to the Kennewick and Pasco sides of the river. It was too soon Sunday to get an exact count, but event director Kathy Powell said the crowd topped 70,000 people for the weekend.

"We were so elated to have such a large crowd this weekend," she said. "It was just phenomenal. Everyone was having fun."

Water Follies promotion outside the Tri-Cities also brought a lot of out-of-town and first-time spectators, she said, adding that it's great that they can "get people excited to come to the Tri-Cities."

On Sunday, spectators snacked on food, stayed cool with shaved ice and crowded the shore to cheer for their favorite boats and drivers.

They also were entertained by an air show, with thundering planes and aerobatics.

One of the pilots, Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt, also was new to the Follies. He performs in 18 air shows a year across the country but made his Tri-Cities debut earlier in the week.

He spent time talking with kids about the Air Guard and checking out the river action. He also tried out the hydro course in his Staudacher S-300D airplane. Klatt raced another pilot in an Edge 540, the two planes zooming overhead as spectators craned to look.

"We'd have liked to race a boat," Klatt said, but the pilots settled for racing each other for safety reasons.

As the day went on, the temperature crept into the triple digits. Friends Jesus Alquicira and Casandra Romero stayed cool in the Lagoon Saloon, a roped-off area on the Kennewick side where beer and margaritas were flowing. Alquicira, 21, of Sunnyside, had never been to the races before, although he'd heard plenty about them from friends.

He and Romero came "just for fun," he said. "We heard it's one of the funnest things to do."

It was business that brought Wendell Unrau to the Follies for the first time. The Caldwell, Idaho, man was selling hand-crafted mahogany models of cars, fire trucks and planes in a prime spot along the Kennewick side of the water.

He came hoping to make sales but said he got caught up in the races as the hydros sped by.

"It was fun to watch the first heat of Unlimited. That speed, the water. It's always fun to watch them go around the course," he said.

On the Pasco side, fans also crowded the shore.

Matt McCullough was no Follies newcomer -- he and his brother started coming in 1972.

But it was the family's first time spending the entire race on the Pasco side of the river. About 20 to 25 relatives come each year, McCullough said.

The 50-year-old from Shoreline said he thought Pasco's Columbia River bank was privately owned until he found out differently from a friend. Then it took 10 years of spending Saturday on one side of the river and Sunday on the other before the family decided to completely switch. While in Pasco, "the boats are so much closer," he said.

McCullough said he prefers the Water Follies to Seattle's Seafair because in the Tri-Cities people are unabashedly enthusiastic about the races.

The family of Ana Boss of Kennewick had plenty to be excited about during the hydros. The Kennewick girl turned 16 over Follies weekend -- the second year in a row she's shared a birthday with race day.

The letters of Happy Birthday were strung along the inside of her family's tent. Boss said it was exciting to spend her birthday watching the boat races with friends and family.

The Follies found a new fan this weekend in Christa Crone. The 48-year-old from Klamath Falls, Ore., had never seen a hydro race before.

She said she was impressed by the power the boats had on the water, though she wished there was an announcer explaining what happened on the Pasco side.

Still, she was hooked.

Now that she's been once, "I would come for the whole weekend," she said.

* Reporters Sara Schilling, Paula Horton, Kai-Huei Yau and Kristi Pihl contributed to this report.

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