Not Slowing Down: Jeff Lewis Rides Again at 57th Annual Boatnik Celebration
A lot has changed since Boatnik launched in the late 1950s—a time when drag racing was an unbridled teenage thrill and supersonic jets were a technological obsession. At that time, the annual motorboat races were something a bit more wild and unregulated.
“Things have changed considerably since those days,” says Jeff Lewis, one of the race veterans. “As far as requirements, it’s a whole different ball game,” Lewis says. “Nothing was quite as astringent like any racing sport at the time. Back then they weren’t so sober; nowadays everything is extremely strict. It has to be for safety’s sake.”
But at the ripe age of 64, Jeff Lewis hasn’t taken any time to slow down, nor does he take pause at the innate dangers associated with the sport. Though many innovations have been made to ensure the safety of racers, it is impossible to eliminate the risks that come with navigating unpredictable river waters at such high velocities. Lewis and his fellow racers are now required to wear Kevlar suits to protect from shrapnel that may be produced in the event of an accident.
A participant in riverboat racing since 1968, Lewis has seen the game mature and he has left his mark on the sport. Lewis currently holds the world speed record for riverboat racing, topping out at an average of speed of 82.880 mph. This tremendous feat was accomplished by combining efforts of Lewis and his former rival Don Burnison. The pair are close friends and have worked diligently together since the formation of “Team Nostalgia” in 2002.
“He’d retired and approached me about putting together a team,” explains Lewis. “A combination where both of us would be involved together. I said that would be pretty bizarre after all these years of us being involved together as arch-rivals in the racing game. And so from 2002 on we’ve run a boat we both owned. I drive it and we both keep the maintenance up on it. His wife Sandy one who called it Team Nostalgia. Just a couple of old duffers.”
The pair makes quite a dynamic duo, with Burnsion previously holding the all-time win hydroplane record, which is now held by Lewis.
One of Lewis’ calling cards is his infamous boat 007 boat, a boat that ironically never had any intention to draw parallels to the fictional martini guzzling British operative.
“I sold my first boat to my step brother and he put ‘CC7’ on the side,” explains Lewis. “I decided to make zeros out of it, and never did think about the relationship to the movies. People have made fun of it over the years, but the numbers stuck and that’s where I’ve stayed.”
Being a seasoned veteran, Lewis understands the nature of the game—and the fickleness of staying on top.
“I never expect to win,” he says, “that’s something that happens at the end. If you go out there expecting to win you’ve already lost. There’re too many things that could go wrong, you have the water, you have the rocks, you have wind, the motor might even not start. There is no such thing as expecting to win.”
Thursday, May 26 – Monday, May 30
See Boatnik.com for full schedule.