After an eventful weekend with accidents, breakdowns, break-through performances and one of the largest fleet of F1 tunnel boats—complete with a dozen rookie competitors—the sport has seen in years, the defending NGK Spark Plugs F1 Powerboat Championship series champion, Ashton Rinker, started this year where he finished the 2018 season.
Ashton Rinker won the first race of the NGK Spark Plugs F1 Powerboat Championship in Port Neches, Texas, on Sunday. All photos courtesy Kevin Pyles/MOTO Marketing Group
Rinker, who races for the Texas-based Rinker’s Boat World team and hails from Tampa, Fla., started the final heat at the pole and watched the lead slip away at the start to veteran Chris Fairchild of Illinois in the Lottery.com boat. With a jam-packed 25-boat field for Sunday afternoon’s race, the 1.25-mile course provided plenty of passing and fast-paced traffic that proved fun to watch for spectators and those following along live on Facebook.
Fairchild, who started in the third position, held the lead for a little more than half of the 17-minute race before Rinker worked his way up from fourth place, passing rookie F1 competitor RJ West of California and Rusty Wyatt from Ontario, Canada. As the race was halted when Jeremiah Mayo flipped in a turn, the final positions on the podium were awarded to Rinker, Fairchild and West, who fared well in his first official F1 race competing in the plug for a new hull design from his company, Composite Craft Boats. West expects the boat to be ready for the second race of the season in Toledo, Ohio, at the end of June.
“What a great weekend for the team—it was nice to start the season with a win, plus my cousin (Chris Rinker) met his goal and finished in the top 10,” said Rinker, adding that Rinker’s Boat World was the only team with two top-10 finishers. “I was confident we won—I was pretty far out front and we didn’t have much time left in the race when the accident happened, so I knew they wouldn’t restart it for one more lap.
“I enjoyed every bit of the weekend,” he continued. “There were so many boats—a lot of the drivers were rookies and they all did an amazing job. I’m looking forward to the rest of the NGK season. Every race is going to be a battle.”
Check out the slideshow above for more images from the 2019 NGK F1 season opener in Port Neches, Texas. Included are pictures from J Hydro, TriHull and Formula Lights with podium shots of all the corresponding winners.
Tim Seebold, one of the primary organizers of the NGK F1 series, said the decision to call the race was easy because there were just four seconds, plus the last lap, left in the race.
“Technically anything past halfway can be an official race so Ashton got the win in Texas,” Seebold said. “We had such an eventful weekend that we decided a restart was not what we needed, especially after what happened to Travis (Yates) earlier in the day.
“Overall it was nice to see the good turnout and such competitive racing,” he said. “There were some lead changes and passing all over the place, especially up front, which is what this sport needs. There was a tremendous amount of rookies and they all held their own.”
Seebold expressed relief following an accident in a qualifying heat on Sunday. A first-turn crash involving Tracey Hawkins, Mark Proffitt and Travis Yates ended up leaving Yates pretty banged up. The good news, according to Seebold, is that all of Yates’ bruises and breaks—including a fractured shoulder blade, broken ribs, two fractured lower-back vertebrae and a broken pelvis —should heal on their own.
The final top-three finishers in the three other classes that competed in Port Neches included: Formula Lights – Mark Schmerbauch, Jose Mendana and Chris Hughes; TriHull – Jerry Rinker, Cory Walker and Tanner Rinker; J Hydro – Alden Merrill, Kolby Crook and Shane Butler.