Joe Van Bergen is, by his own admission, a little slower now. In his 80s, he is not quite as spry as he was in his 20s and 30s. His passion for drag boat racing, however, has never waned since he was a Canadian racing champion in the 1950s.
Van Bergen still lives at Sproat Lake, where he spent his childhood. When he was younger he used to attend all the Sproat Lake boating regattas, and in 1953 entered a boat with a friend. It was a 12-foot boat with a two-horsepower motor, and they entered a class where “anybody with a motor could race,” he said.
When the final regatta was run on the lake in 1963, Van Bergen held a Canadian speed record that still stands.
Now, Van Bergen spends his spare time enjoying life at the lake—and helping revive the regatta. He and the regatta committee are busy finalizing plans for the 2015 event, planned for July 17–19 at the provincial park boat launch.
Ray Nash was too young to race when the regatta was at its most popular, but he still caught the bug.
“I was at all the races out there,” he said.
“I found out a lot about racing from Joe because he was a local hero at the time.”
Nash bought his son Mike a 1.5 horsepower Elgin eight-foot hydroplane when he was five or six years old, and the young Nash raced that around Sproat Lake.
Sometime in the 1980s the record-breaking Miss British Columbia drag boat came to Sproat Lake to make a few passes. Her driver had broken the speed record at 202 miles per hour.
“When he fired that thing up they could hear it in the Alberni Valley,” Ray Nash said.
Mike Nash was 15 when Miss British Columbia came to town.
“He saw that boat and that finished him,” Ray said proudly. Mike Nash spent 20 years as president of the now-defunct Fraser Valley Drag Boat Association, serves on the Sproat Lake association and won the unlimited class at home last year. He now owns his own drag boat manufacturing company, Haulin Nass Racing.
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He will be back to defend his title in July.
One day, Van Bergen and Nass would like to see the regatta become as large as it was in the late 1950s.
“We used to get 200 entries in each category. We would get up to 5,000 spectators,” Van Bergen said.
Last year’s entries didn’t come close to the regatta’s heyday, but it was still a success.
Until then, the regatta is taking baby steps. In addition to the regatta itself in July, the association will host an outrigger canoe exchange race on the August long weekend.