Speed on water: Fargo man discovers the excitement of powerboat racing

Summer may seem a long way off with impending snow in the forecast, but Chris Waalen is anxiously awaiting the day he can get his boat back in the water.

Summer may seem a long way off with impending snow in the forecast, but Chris Waalen is anxiously awaiting the day he can get his boat back in the water.

Not just any boat. The Fargo resident owns a Super Stock 60 tunnel boat, which is small in size but can travel up to 110 mph and turn on a dime at about 80 mph.

This isn't your grandpa's fishing boat.

Waalen is one of few North Dakotans who races powerboats in the Twin Cities Powerboat Association and the American Powerboat Superleague. This year, he finished fifth at the Outboard Performance Craft Nationals in Kankakee, Ill.

"It was great finishing in fifth, considering a lot of the other racers have been doing this a lot longer than me," Waalen said.


In his fourth year of racing, he finished the season in second place in the TCPBA SST 60 club points and third place in the American Powerboat Association SST 70 category, which is a bigger engine class from the SST 60.

"I want to be the Donny Schatz of boat racing," Waalen said.

There could be some similarities drawn between Waalen and the local race car driver. However, Waalen will be the first to admit that boat racing is nothing like driving a car.

"It's a little more difficult than cars," Waalen said. "First, there's lap traffic, and wind is a big factor."

Lap traffic are the waves kicked up during a race. Sometimes if a driver isn't careful, a combination of waves and wind will lift the boat up and flip it over.

"Blowing over in 36-degree water is never fun," Waalen said. "Plus, it's expensive to fix."

Boat racing can get spendy. An SST 60 boat with a 56-cubic-inch engine costs around $20,000. Waalen got his start with boat racing after he sold some lake property and invested in his racing hobby.

Before that, he was racing sail boats.


"But they were too slow for me," Waalen joked.

He started with a Class C boat and a 35-cubic- inch engine. Now he drives a two-time national Champion boat sponsored by Hooters.

Getting sponsors wasn't so easy either. Every year Waalen sends out 50-60 proposals, aiming at national companies that want their company name to travel about 20,000 miles a season. Waalen said it wouldn't be possible to race without his sponsors.

Waalen said he wouldn't be able to race without his wife Wendy, who goes to all the races and works the radio during Waalen's races.

"In a tunnel boat, you can't see anything but what's in front of you," Chris said. "She lets me know where the other boats are. She's my biggest supporter."

Chris also gets advice from his friend and mentor Scott Landgraf of Maple Plain, Minn. Landgraf won the same Nationals race that Waalen placed fifth in.

"He's probably taught me the most about racing," Chris said.

With his most successful season behind him, Waalen will now concentrate on upgrading his equipment and getting more North Dakotans interested in boat racing, a sport he truly enjoys.


"There's nothing like going into a 90-degree turn at about 100 mph on water and taking about 2.5 to 3 Gs on your body and back up again to full speed again in a couple of seconds," Chris said. "I hope to be doing this for a long time."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jessica Williams at (701) 451-5637

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