When Aaron Johnson was little, his mother took him to the Evansville Freedom Festival, not to watch the full-throttle, full-sized hydroplane boat races the Freedom Festival was known for, but to see the opening act — a miniature boat race called “Little Thunder.” A group called the River City Racing Club, a model power boating club that has been competing around the country since 1981, performed Little Thunder.
As he aged, these small boat races slipped his mind as other aspirations took greater priority — until he moved to Eagle Crest Lake on Evansville’s East Side.
“I was driving down the interstate one day and looked over the bypass and saw the boats there,” says Johnson, 41. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there they are.’
“They started a beginner class in which you buy the boat, put the gas in it, and you’re ready to go. So I bought a boat off the Internet, and now here I am,” says Johnson, who is the current club president of River City Racing.
Model powerboat racing is both a hobby and a competitive sport. Many racers build their own model boats while others can be bought online. The boats are small, radio controlled, and gas powered.
The club includes 30 active members who meet at 7 p.m. the second Monday of every month at Washington Square Mall. Members participate in and plan three races a year — the Spring Shootout in May, Little Thunder in June, and the Kohlmeyer Fall Classic in September. Each race usually holds more than 150 participants from all over the country.
“We hold the biggest races in this district,” says Johnson, who works fulltime as a truck driver for Meisler Trailer Rentals.
The U.S. is broken up into 21 districts within the International Model Powerboat Association, a nonprofit organization created to foster model powerboat building and encourage and assist the formation of racing clubs. The River City Racing Club is in the 14th district, which covers Indiana and Kentucky, and includes five other racing clubs.
The races are 1-mile long and the winners receive trophies and bragging rights. Prize money is never awarded. In the eight years Johnson has been a member of the River City Racing Club he has earned 15 trophies.
In 2002, the club earned the honor of accepting the William E. LeFeber Award, which is given by the International Model Powerboat Association to clubs for outstanding sportsmanship and service to the organization.
“I quickly went from a boat racing beginner to the commentator at our races — I know a lot about the boats and I like to talk. I never thought growing up that I would be such a big part of these races and the president of this club one day,” says Johnson.
Johnson also has involved his children in the races. His son Cole, 13, joined the club in September 2015.
“It’s hard to pick one thing that I could say is my favorite part about being the president of this club,” says Johnson. “I get to make new friends, feel the excitement of competing, and enjoy it with my family.”
For more information about the River City Racing Club, visit its Facebook page.