DECATUR — The only reason Sean Bowsher had ever heard of Decatur was because of its Memorial Day powerboat races.
A Kankakee native, Bowsher first visited the city in the 1990s, when his father raced here. Later, as he was getting out of the U.S. Air Force and looking for a job as a police officer, he remembered those events when he learned Decatur was hiring.
Three years later, in 2004, Bowsher raced his own boat in the event for the first time. That year was the last for the event, which was plagued with weather problems that organizers said made it too expensive to host.
Now, having traveled all over the country to race his 1-liter modified hydroplane, Bowsher wants to bring the races back to Lake Decatur. He has received permission from the Decatur Park District, is seeking approval from the city and plans to start beating down doors in search of roughly $30,000 in sponsorship contributions.
“It seems like everybody wants the boat races to come back,” said Bowsher, a 38-year-old Decatur police officer who lives in Cisco with his wife and two daughters. “I give it a good chance that it’s going to happen. I think if I can secure a good title sponsor, I think the money will start to kind of snowball.”
But it’s not just money Bowsher needs. Much of his budget could be satisfied by in-kind donations, such as the use of cranes to hoist boats into the water or radios for organizers to talk to each other. From fencing to buoys, many of the items seem inexpensive on their own.
“It almost nickels and dimes it to death. … It’s just a ton of little things that you have to do,” he said.
Insurance for the event, which is to be sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association, would cost $5,000.
One of the first items to be chopped from the budget is prize money. Bowsher said he might seek small sponsorships to help offset some towing or fuel costs for winners, but the event would not offer substantial monetary prizes, at least in its first year.
Bowsher has a network of contacts in the powerboat racing world and represents the region in the American Powerboat Association’s Inboard Racing Commission. He feels confident that he could bring at least 75 boats to Decatur, though about 20 of those would be vintage boats that are more for show than racing.
His younger daughter, 10-year-old Shelby, also hopes that the races will include a junior class so she can participate with her new boat.
That would help contribute the family oriented atmosphere that Bowsher wants to bring to the races. He hopes the event also will include food vendors, a children’s activity such as a bounce house and a car show.
Jeff Hendricks, executive director of the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau is excited to work with Bowsher and help him bring the popular event back to the city.
“A lot of people really enjoyed them, and I think the public is going to be thrilled to see the races return,” he said. “Any time you do an event like this, you want a lot of spectators. You depend on them. I think there’s a buzz and an interest and a history that should make for a wonderful turnout and a great weekend.”
This is not Bowsher’s first attempt at organizing powerboat races in Central Illinois. Planning for an event on Clinton Lake failed in 2011 because of a lack of financial support.
“I think I’m better in touch with Decatur anyway because I work there. The infrastructure is there for a boat race. They’ve had it in the past,” Bowsher said.
Hendricks said the Decatur community would likely respond eagerly to a revival of the races. While the event previously ended because of prohibitive costs, Hendricks said he thought Bowsher could be successful in part because of his modest goals.
“His goal is to keep the costs reasonable,” Hendricks said. “Sometimes people are willing to support things with their time or equipment or whatever, which is really great about Decatur. We find that happens a lot.”
For more information or to get involved, contact Bowsher at firstname.lastname@example.org.