AP NEWS

Rinker family take two top finishes at Thunder on the Neches

May 6, 2019

“Scary” Jerry Rinker wants more family dynasties in boat racing, and it’s hard to argue with the Rinkers’ results this weekend.

For the fifth time in the last nine years, Jerry, 75, won the tri-hull competition at the Thunder on the Neches powerboat races on Sunday in Port Neches. A few hours later, his nephew, Ashton Rinker, 34, took first place in the Formula 1 event.

“We saw today that there’s another generation of Rinkers,” Jerry said. “More drivers need to get their families out here racing.”

Jerry, who currently lives in Houston, began boat racing at 7 years old in Syracuse, Indiana. He first tried his hand at the tri-hull event roughly 15 years ago.

Driving a tri-hull is a very a different task from the Formula 1 or Formula Light boats. The tri-hulls are rough and bumpy with no ceilings, while the Formula boats are enclosed and built for speed, providing and a much smoother ride for the driver.

Jerry has passed the tri-hull tradition on to a much younger Rinker, his teenage protege Tanner, who finished in third during Sunday’s final race.

“You’ve got to be a little insane to drive a tri-hull,” said Jerry, who started Rinker’s Boat World in Houston.

Ashton won the Formula 1 race — the finale of the weekend — after finishing second a year ago in Port Neches. This year, he got a good jump right from the start, which proved more important than usual when a crash by Jeremiah Mayo ended the race prematurely.

Mayo walked away from the crash unharmed. When the race was called, Ashton was in first place.

“It’s tough to see that,” Ashton said of the crash. “But ultimately, I came here to win and that’s what I did.”

Thousands of fans flocked to the Neches River throughout the weekend, many also attending the Port Neches RiverFest just walking distance from pit row.

Thunder on the Neches was the first of six events on the 2019 NGK Spark Plug F1 Powerboat Championship Series. Although the other events are held in larger cities like Pittsburgh and Toledo, drivers say Port Neches provides an experience unlike any other.

David LeJeune, who helped organize the RiverFest for the third year in a row, said the drivers’ love for Port Neches comes from a strong appetite for boat racing in the area.

“Drivers want to see fans out of there cheering them on, and we certainly have that here in Port Neches,” LeJeune said.

Formula Light driver and Port Neches-Groves graduate Chris Hughes took third place in his category.

“It’s fun to race anywhere, but this is pretty cool,” Hughes said of his hometown event.

As for the Rinkers, Ashton and Jerry now hold an enviable position among their fellow drivers. Winning the first event of the year in their respective categories puts them in a strong spot moving forward.

Tanner’s third-place finish in the tri-hull race was the first podium appearance of his career. Keeping with boat racing tradition, Tanner’s family members threw him in the Neches River to celebrate.

“We’re going to keep the Rinker name going as long as we can,” Ashton said. “We’re a very successful family in boat racing.”

MFaye@BeaumontEnterprise.com

Twitter.com/mattGfaye