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‘Smoke on the Water’ features snowmobile watercross racing in Lowville


LOWVILLE — The flag goes up, the mud flies and the snowmobiles — yes, you read that correctly — roar out onto the water July 13.

Sunday evening brought the concluding heats of the 25th annual “Smoke on the Water” snowmobile watercross at the Flat Rock Inn, an event that pairs winter with summer in a style uniquely its own.

“It’s a rush. It’s like no other,” said Kevin P. Hunter, of Glastonbury, Conn. “It’s more fun than riding them on snow, I can tell you that much.”

Mr. Hunter, who has been participating in the Flat Rock Inn event since 1995, walked away from this year’s competition with three victories, breathless and with a celebratory beer in hand.

He won in the right-hand turn oval track event and in the drag racing portion of the competition. But he was proudest of the trophy he earned for the first annual Garrett Miller Memorial Classic, an unusual race named for a young man who died tragically this year after battling cystic fibrosis.

The classic tested the skills of 31 riders who all took to the pond behind the inn at once, with a gallon of gas on each snowmobile. The last rider floating was the victor.

Snowmobiles don’t float, but rather hydroplane on the surface of the water using their wide tracks and a certain ratio of propulsion per unit of weight.

Participants in the Classic each paid $25, money which will be donated to charity.

Mr. Hunter, who is a snowmobile dealer in Connecticut, said that riders customize their sleds for use on the water, modifying the engines and suspension systems of the machines and narrowing the skis, which typically stay in the air during races.

Gordon J. Yancey, owner of Flat Rock Inn and organizer of the two-day event, said he was one of the first people to race a snowmobile on water in the north country in 1978.

“It goes back a long way,” Mr. Yancey said. “It’s grown massively.”

There were 65 participants in this year’s event, including junior classes, amateurs, pros and semi-pros, according to Mr. Yancey. Junior and amateur riders win trophies while pro and semi-pro riders win cash payouts according to their rankings.

The “Smoke on the Water” event marks the second racing weekend hosted by Flat Rock Inn this summer. A Spring Classic was held on June 14 and 15 and the New York state championship will be held the weekend of Aug. 9 and 10.

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