Marina and Marissa Bartels have never missed a Tri-City Water Follies.
This year, Marina, 20, and Marissa, 17, are working in the pits doing everything from refueling the boats to fixing the engines, something they’ve done for years.
But the two young women from Buckley, Wash., brought along their 2.5 liter racing boat to show it to the crowds that take a trip past the fence into the pits. Their goal is to show people that anyone can race.
“Kids can start racing at 9 years old, “ Marina said. “It’s a male dominated sport, but it’s not just for the guys. We’re busy in the pits, but we do have a chance to put people in the boat.”
For the sisters, racing started as a family affair. Their father was the airboss at Seafair in Seattle, and the two women have been around boats all of their lives, including several years working in the pits for the U-99.9 hydroplane.
The first time Marina got a chance to ride in an unlimited, she came away with tears, she told KNDU shortly before her first race in Richland in 2017.
“You know that you want to feel that adrenaline,” she said. “You want to feel that all of the time. “
Her work did not go unnoticed. John Culver, who runs the Richland Regatta, offered Marina her first chance to drive his backup boat, which is now their boat. He was impressed with Marina’s work ethic.
She drove her first race within days of graduating high school.
Her younger sister joined her last year, and the two form Bartels Family Racing. They are about halfway through their 10-race season, with stops planned for Pateros, Oak Harbor, Spanaway, Manson and Chelan.
The 2.5 liter race boat runs off a stock Ford Pinto engine and can reach 100 mph on the water. That is compared to the bigger unlimited boats that weigh in at about 7,000 pounds and can reach double the speed.
When they’re asked why they race, they answer in unison, “Because we love it.”
“Driving is always a rush. It’s fun,” Marina said. “The family we build out of it is pretty crazy. ... We’ve grown up with these people, and I think these boats are so cool to watch. It doesn’t even matter the size.”
It doesn’t take long to see how the people involved in the racing community support each other. One of the people with one of their sponsors, The Wyndsor Cabinet Group, helps set up the pits in Kennewick. He brought their boat along.
For now they plan to keep piloting the 2.5 liter, but they would love to move up to something bigger.
“If there was a potential opportunity to drive a 5 liter or a Grand Prix, feeling that horsepower behind you, that would be amazing,” Marina said.
Elsewhere at the Follies
While the crowds on both sides of the river swelled for the final day of racing, people for the most part behaved themselves.
Though there was an alleged drunk driver who drove through several barricades and over a couple of curbs in Columbia Park after the last race. Security from StaffPro and the Washington State Patrol stopped the driver, Caleb Grabow, before he caused serious damage.
He was booked into Benton County jail for DUI and driving with a suspended license.
Kennewick police shared a happy story as well. Late last night some officers found a couple stranded in the park because of a flat tire on a motorized wheelchair.
A kind citizen in the area loaded the stranded wheelchair onto a lift trailer and helped the couple get home.
“We are grateful to serve a community that’s giving of their time and resources to help others in need,” Kennewick police said on Facebook.
Herald intern Maya Leshikar contributed to this report.