“Who’s everybody rooting for?”
That’s what Jimmy Shane asked a children’s group touring the pit area for unlimited hydroplane racing Friday in Kennewick.
“Oh Boy! Oberto!” the kids screamed, referring to Shane’s team sponsor. He’s the winner of the 2014 national high-points title on the H1 Unlimited Circuit.
The special group of kids, many with Down syndrome, received a VIP tour of the pits, met with boat drivers and collected autographs Friday on the first day of Tri-Cities Water Follies action, with boat race qualifying and the HAPO Over the River Airshow.
More fast boats and planes are scheduled July 25, with the event culminating July 26 with the APBA Gold Cup.
Many boat drivers were generous with their time Friday. Giving back to the fans has long been a tradition with the sport, said Mike Lauria of Kennewick, a pit tour guide who organized the tour of the Columbia Park pits for the Down Syndrome Association of the Mid-Columbia. The group of 30 included family members.
In the past, Lauria has brought in groups for tours from The Arc of Tri-Cities, 4-H and an assisted living facility where he works. After taking part in the association’s annual Buddy Walk for several years, he wanted children there to get to go behind the scenes of the races.
“Just to see the smiles on their faces, it does make you feel like you’ve done something good for somebody somewhere,” he said.
The kids were appreciative of the tour, said Kevin Winkelman of Richland, whose daughter Mia, 9, was among them.
“They love the colorful boats, seeing them race on the river and meeting the drivers,” he said. “It’s pretty cool that the drivers are willing to share their time.”
The association serves about 100 area families with information and resources, said board member Monique Marron of Richland, whose daughter Hannah, 6, was with her on the tour. It has a parents support group that meets monthly and provides speakers.
The association also brings the kids on several “play days” a year, during which they get to attend a fun activity. Lauria asked Marron to bring the kids to the Water Follies for one such day.
“She put it on her Facebook page and it literally exploded with people she was able to get to go,” he said.
The Water Follies is a great place for a play day, Marron said.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to go see the boat races? Being part of the Tri-Cities is really awesome for kids with special needs because we’re really welcomed everywhere.”
The events are beneficial for everyone, Winkelman said.
“The community can get to know people with Down syndrome,” he said. “Knowledge is power.”