American Power Boat Association representative and Rocky Fork Thunder race director David Archiable announced "the race is on" Monday evening at the Highland County Courthouse lawn, signaling the return of the popular annual hydroplane boat races.
Slated for Sept. 15 and 16, "the Rocky Fork Thunder Powered by HighlandCounty.com," formerly known as Thunder in the Hills, will be held at Rocky Fork Lake.
"The race is on," Archiable said to applause. "This is a proud day for race organizers and sponsors.
"I can't believe the outpouring of support from the local community as well as the racing community."
The 2012 event will mark the Thunder's 24th year, with the races being cut last year due to financial issues. With top speeds on the water of close to 150 mph, event chairman Dean Armstrong said the hydroplane races are popular for drivers and fans alike.
"Drivers love to race on Rocky Fork Lake," Armstrong told The Highland County Press earlier this month. "We've had 18 official world records at Rocky Fork Lake, with another six to eight records that weren't reported because those drivers didn't win their races – even though they did break the record."
This year, the event will host approximately 55 high-quality boats, Armstrong said. Past races have attracted drivers and pit crews from Florida, Texas, New York, Georgia and Canada.
Archiable said that the race's two "primary sponsors" are WVNU Lite 97.5 FM and the Highland County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"I'm so pleased to continue our relationship with the Thunder," WVNU general manager Pat Hays said. "Our station went on the air in 1994, and this was one of our first events we were ever involved in.
"We feel it's so important to Highland County. We want to give all the support we can."
Hays added that WVNU devotes two complete days to the Rocky Fork Thunder event.
Highland County Commissioner Tom Horst was in attendance, representing the Highland County Convention & Visitors Bureau, of which he is a board member.
"We [at the CVB] think that it's very important for the race to come back to Highland County," Horst said.
Horst said that the CVB felt it was particularly important to sponsor this event as it helps showcase Highland County as a "destination" for people outside the community to visit and to support local businesses.
"We want to thank everyone involved for bringing the Thunder back to Highland County, for the Highland County community," Horst said.
Representatives attended from Joey's Pizza, a "silver sponsor" of the Rocky Fork Thunder; the Rocky Fork Marine and The Overlook Retreat and Banquet Center, who donated their facility for the weekend; and Bayview Campground and Cottages, who donated cabins in addition to financial support.
The Rocky Fork Thunder race is also sponsored by Sunoco and Wants & Needs Automotive.
Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Richard Giroux was also in attendance on behalf of the mayor's office.
Horst ended the ceremony by thanking Dr. Paul Yinger, a founder of the original Thunder in the Hills, for his work to make the event "bigger and better every year."
"None of this would be possible without the people in Highland County backing us," Yinger said. "It's a world-class event."
According to a press release by Rocky Fork Thunder, "General admission to the race is free, and VIP tickets, officially licensed clothing and sponsorship opportunities are still available."
For more information on attending, participating in or sponsoring the event, visit www.rockyforkthunder.com or email RFT@rockyforkthunder.com.