The Polish Invasion in Lock Haven, PA
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
European driver and friend of the A-Team, Cezary Strunmik, travels to America to compete in the Dash for the Cash in Lock Haven, PA.
Cezary Strumnik took three deep breaths and nodded for the official to lift the cooler lid. What he was about to attempt was at best an underground sport still undiscovered by the masses and at worst just plain crazy. The Polish race boat pilot had traveled all the way from his hometown of Chodziez, Poland to the central Pennsylvania hamlet of Lock Haven to compete in a race boat competition. He was now, however, kneeling in a wet parking lot about to stuff his head in a cooler of freezing cold water. The object of this unusual game, he had been instructed, was to pick up a lone beer with his teeth faster than anyone else.
Cezary’s journey to America actually began four years earlier when he befriended the United States Hydroplane Racing Team while hosting the 2009 UIM World Championship in his hometown. Since that time, the members of The U.S. A-Team had become good friends with the Polish pilot and renewed their friendship every year while competing in Europe. This year, with the assistance of The American Powerboat Association Historical Society, The U.S. A-Team had arranged for Cezary to fly across the ocean along with his mechanic, Marcin, to compete in the annual Lock Haven Labor Day Regatta and the weekends’ feature event, Sunday’s world famous C-Stock Hydro “Dash for the Cash.” The Polish twosome had flown to Boston on the preceding Wednesday where they were picked up at Logan Airport by U.S. A-Team captain Billy Allen who would be hosting them for the week. The pair had a quick Thursday morning tour of the coastline south of Boston but by noon it was go-time. The three then hooked up the trailer and climbed into Allen’s Toyota Tacoma Pickup Truck for the eight-hour trip to Lock Haven.
Friday’s test session went well with Strumnik familiarizing himself with the beautifully-painted white laydown hull produced by Jerry Davids of Davids Motorsports and to get some much needed practice on the clock start. “I have never before started on a clock,” stated the Polish driver as he suited up for testing. “In the UIM races in Europe we always use the dead engine jetty start so this is very new to me.” On Saturday morning, the tension mounted in Cezary’s brain as he walked to the bridge with Allen to watch the first few heats of the weekend and to witness for the first time in his six-year racing career, boats starting on a flying clock start. After some preliminary instruction and advice by Allen, a decent clock starter himself, the two watched the first two heats of the day with Strumnik running back and forth across the street through the bridge traffic to get the best view. When the first two heats were completed, Strumnik turned to his instructor and simply stated, “We can go now, I have a plan.”
Later in the day, in C-Stock Hydro elimination heat number two, as the ten little hydro’s scrummed and jockeyed for position under the bridge before the start, it was obvious that Strumnik did have a plan. In the very first clock start of his life Strumnik hit the line with the leaders and stormed to turn one right in the middle of the pack. He then battled around the challenging circuit finishing in the fifth place position and thus qualifying himself for the twelve-boat feature final. At the completion of the heat it was a smiling and much relieved Strumnik who pulled into the pits among much applause from his new fans. “You made the final!” yelled an exuberant Jerry Davids as he lifted the diminutive driver from the cockpit with one hand and spun him around in the air. “We knew you could do it!” Minutes later, in the twelve boat feature final, Strumnik hit the line amid heavy traffic in the middle of the tight group and then engaged in a great mid-pack battle against some of the best C-Hydro drivers that America had to throw at him. Finishing in the seventh place spot, Strumnik was once again wet and smiling as he pulled off the course to more applause from him now growing legion of fans. “That was much fun”, said the smiling pilot at the conclusion of the race. “The American drivers are very tough.”
In his elimination race on Sunday, Cezary’s luck ran out and he hit a buoy in turn two while battling for a qualifying spot thus disqualifying himself from the two-heat final. His consolation prize, however, was to witness two heats of great racing as mid-westerners, Joe Silvestri and Brian Williams, along with east-coasters, A. J. Jennings and Billy Allen, put on a show for the crowd as they scratched, kicked, bit, and thumbed each other in the eyes for two heats on the angry Susquehanna River. In heat one it was local favorite A. J. Jennings from Aston, Pennsylvania outclassing the field and taking the checkered flag for the heat win. In heat two it was Allen, driving the beautiful 26-A owned by Bob “Crowbar” Cronin who led wire to wire to take the win in heat two. When the spray had settled and the points were counted it was the high flying 9-P of A. J. Jennings with the overall win as dad, Alex Senior settled back in his lounge chair with a fresh cigar and a big smile. Second went to the last year’s winner Allen and third place
went to past champion Silvestri.
As the tension from two days of intense racing settled into Sunday evenings’ party atmosphere, it was now time for the other big attraction of the Lock Haven Regatta weekend—cooler bobbing!
Cezary Strumnik now plunged his head into the ice-cold water hoping to succeed in this wacky American boat racing tradition. As the time ticked by, seconds seemed like minutes as the assembled masses fidgeted with anticipation wondering if Cezary Strumnik would ever come up for air. When he finally did emerged with a cold beer bottle clutched between his frozen lips, the crowd exploded into a whoop that could be heard all the way back to Chodziez, Poland!
“That was a bigger noise than I have ever gotten for winning a boat race in Europe”, said the shivering Strumnik as he shook hands with the crowd of admirers after the event. Although he did not produce a gold medal time it was, however, good enough for third place and with this finish, Cezary Strumnik secured his place in Lock Haven boat racing history.
On Monday, the last day of racing, in another highly competitive C-Hydro contest, Strumnik proved that he is as good a hydroplane driver as he is a cooler bobber. Now getting used to the new boat and the clock start, Strumnik battled to a solid third place and his best finish of the long race weekend.
Asked about his American racing experience, Strumnik was quick to acknowledge all the help he received in order to make his dream of racing in American a reality. “I want to thank the APBA Historical Society for starting this international racing program and for buying my plane ticket, The U.S. A-Team and Billy Allen for hosting me and also Jerry Davids who built a great boat and for bringing me a faster motor to race.” stated Strumnik as he prepared to leave the venue. “The racers were very helpful to me and were good sportsmen. Hopefully I can come back and race here again someday.”
UNITY FLAGSTAFF REPORTING