Ask any powerboat racer what attracted him to the sport and, chancesare, he will answer "speed."
Ron Thompson will. Even though the Joppatowne resident doesn't drive the boats he owns much any more, he still gets a kick out of racing.
So does Gregg Williams, who has been driving for Thompson for thelast year.
"It's pretty wild to be going down the straightaway 115 miles an hour, turn the wheel and the boat goes right around the corner like it's on a rail," said Williams, 33, of White Marsh.
But speed doesn't come without risk.
Running third at last weekend's Kent Narrows Power Boat Challenge, Williams flew down the straightawayat more than 100 miles an hour. Just before he reached the turn, Williams saw Bobby Brown's lead boat dead in the water. Brown was standing on the seat waving his hands so that Williams and Bruce Deniston in the No. 2 boat could see him.
In a split second, Williams maneuvered around Brown and off the course to avoid a collision.
"Everybody's heart stopped," said Thompson, who was watching from shore. "Itwas hard for him to see, because he was on the outside."
Williamsgot the boat back on course and finished second.
Close calls likethis are rare for teams like Thompson's, which run about 10 to 15 races a year from early May through October. But for those hooked on racing, the risk is worth it.
"Racing is in your blood. You can't get it out of your system," said Thompson, 38, who was out of the sportfor about 10 years before it drew him back in 1986.
For Thompson,racing is not only in his blood. It's in his genes.
He comes froma power-boating family. His father, Edmund Thompson Sr., was inducted into the American Power Boat Association Hall of Fame after setting13 world records. His brother, Eddie Jr., set four world records.
Next weekend, Thompson's 5-liter hydroplane, Hot To Trot, will be atthe annual Havre de Grace Regatta at North Park.
For Thompson andhis crew -- which includes his uncle, Frank Thompson, Bart Sherman and Steve Webb -- the thrill of racing is worth the nightly grind of mechanical work to keep the boat perfectly tuned.
During the summermonths, the crew spends four or five hours every weeknight working on the boat. That hard work has paid off in the past.
In 1989, Thompson's Hot To Trot won the national and world championships with driver George Kennedy of Bear, Del.
Today, Hot To Trot again sits nearthe top in the national rankings. "We're one of the top three boats in the country," said Thompson, whose boat won the High Point Region 4 crown last year.
Two of the biggest races of the season are coming up in mid-August and early September. First, Thompson will run HotTo Trot in the national championships in Hampton, Va., on Aug. 16-18. Then, the boat will run in the 20th Annual Governor's Cup Regatta at Cox's Point near Essex over Labor Day weekend.
Thompson also works with Bob Mongan, of the Essex Recreation and Parks, to promote theCox's Point race, a favorite of powerboat racers nationwide.
"That's one of the fastest courses in the country. More world records have probably been set there than on any other course. That race draws boats from California, Canada and Florida," said Thompson, whose family owns and operates four automobile dealerships and a boat dealershipin the Baltimore metropolitan area.
While he runs in all the major races, Thompson remains loyal to the hometown crowd by racing at Havre de Grace every year.
"Havre de Grace is a small race, but it'sa good community race. There's always a good turnout," said Thompson.
"The course is dangerous. If they open the dam, wood comes down,and the current is usually rough. But it's a fun race. If you drive with your head, you can come through with no problems."