BERLIN — The end of an era. A former champion’s return. Redemption from a disastrous loss. These are only a few of the oddly compelling story lines surrounding next weekend’s Bathtub Races on Main Street.
Jesse Turner, owner of the Berlin Shoe Box, has run a tub in each of the last 16 races but will call it quits after this season, leaving as the winningest owner in Berlin Bathtub Racing history. Turner has never hidden the secret of his success — find the youngest, strongest legs available and put them to work pushing the bathtub.
As Turner prepares to go out while he’s still on top, the team that won the inaugural race in 1995, Barrett Chevy, returns after several years off the circuit with every intention of performing as well as it ever has, even if it is with a different driver.
John Barrett was just as excited for his team’s return as he was disappointed that he wouldn’t make the event. A scheduling conflict will force the former champion to be out of town but he remembers his Bath Tub Racing glory days and is adamant that his team will rise again.
Barrett won pushing Cyd Pruitt, but that was almost 16 years ago and admits he might have lost a step since then. While he had no plans to drive or push, he still felt his moral support is a critical part of the event.
His brother, Stephen, however, will once again be involved. Stephen said he was not adverse to pushing as a matter of principle but felt his skills would be better used elsewhere as race day approaches.
“I’m going to try to be the driver,” he said holding out hope that a pusher will be found and amenable to the idea.
Getting the tub back in shape, however, is first on the Barretts’ list and with the race still more than a week away, they were discussing possible design changes.
“We’ve got a body shop but we don’t want to give more than that away,” John said.
Stephen wasn’t much more forthcoming except to say that the 2011 model tub will be the best the shop has produced.
But, as even the Barretts will concede, all eyes are on Greg David of The Globe as race day approaches.
Few participants have been as openly enthusiastic and as heartbreakingly disappointed as has David who, for all his talk and training, has failed to place or even show in six years of competition.
Having dismissed his mechanics, designers and engineers, David is in the process of constructing a new tub that better fits his running style. It will be more wheelbarrow-like in construction and have thin wheels placed in such a way as to ensure no repeats of last year’s performance.
Avid Bathtub Race enthusiasts will recall his last-ditch effort to save his failing tub last year that nearly resulted the worst crash in Bathtub Racing history. Losing control of the wheels, David lifted the tub onto one wheel in an attempt to finish.
“It was horrifying for everybody but me,” he said, adding that despite the near-death experience, driver Theda Bakis will return. “She’s scared to death because I almost killed her last year but she’s in.”
David said he’s already begun his rigorous pre-race training program and has added even more sprints to what was an already grueling regimen. Although the race doesn’t start until the evening, he can usually be found out in front of The Globe, stirring up enthusiasm and psyching himself up for the event.
Retirement year or not, David said he’s set his sights on Turner’s team. “I need to get it together,” he said. “I’ve got to crush them.”
On the more serious side, David said the Berlin Chamber of Commerce’s decision to make this an evening event — the races used to end at 3 p.m., now they don’t begin until 5 p.m. — was the right one. He said he looks forward to both the expected increase in crowds and intensified enthusiasm moving the event back will likely bring.
In addition, the races will have question-and-answer periods with the drivers and more focus on the individual heats to keep the crowds engaged.
There is still time to register a team in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races in quite some time. And, as David looks to make the seventh time a charm, experiencing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat following his performance could very well be a summer highlight.