Alligators are a common sight along the waters of Mobile Bay. However, you can expect to see dragons prowling the waterways on Saturday, June 7.
The inaugural Dragon Boat Festival will take place at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center located on the Causeway. The event’s objective is to raise money for projects to benefit local children.
“We wanted to bring Dragon Boat Racing to Mobile and Baldwin counties because of the ‘wow’ factor,” said Grant Zarzour, executive director of the FUSE Project. “It is a totally new concept to our area, and we think our community has been waiting for an event like this that is going to help change the lives of children in our area.”
The competition will bring together teams to compete in 250-meter races up the Delta. Directed by the beat of a drum, 20 paddlers, one steer-person and one drummer will navigate the course in 40-foot-long canoes that are decorated with Chinese dragon heads and tails.
Teams can consist of colleagues, friends, church members and civic leaders. For those wishing to participate but cannot find enough for a team, organizers will find a berth on one of the boats.
Of the 20 paddlers, rules require that eight must be women. If not, the team will receive a three-second penalty. One experienced steerer/coach is provided, along with the boat.
The first round of heat races are scheduled for that Saturday at 9 a.m., with the second round to follow at noon. The final round will get under way at 2 p.m. Teams race once in the morning and then are seeded, based on time, for the afternoon rounds. The top 12 teams will advance to the final round.
Pets and outside alcohol are not allowed. Participants may bring tents, food and non-alcoholic drinks. Food vendors will be available. The races are not the only thing scheduled for the day. Also planned are hot air balloons, airboat rides, inflatables and art walk exhibitors.
The registration fee is $1,000 for corporate teams and $750 for community teams. This price goes up $250 on May 1.
In addition to the registration fee, each member of the team will be required to raise $60 by June 6. Race organizers will provide an online platform to assist in the fundraising.
The Dragon Boat Festival will use the funds to support projects for underprivileged children in the Mobile County Public School System. Along with a partnership with the Alabama Coastal Foundation, the event aims to educate disadvantaged children from Mobile and Baldwin counties about the importance of taking care of the Mobile Delta and its surrounding environment.
The FUSE Project is a non-profit group dedicated to “providing the spark for innovation, funding and implementation of projects benefiting children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast,” according to its website.
“The FUSE Project will always support causes that focus on our surrounding area and have a specific result,” Zarzour said. “We want our supporters to see exactly what their contributions have done for our community. We know the more our area learns about these two projects, the more support this event is going to receive.”
Organizers say they hope to have 50 boats entered in the races, with a goal of raising $100,000.
“We are aiming for a huge impact with this event,” Zarzour said. “In the future, we hope to become one of the largest outdoor events in our area.”
For more information on the festival or to register a team, visit www.thefuseproject.org or www.facebook.org/thefuseproject. A video of a similar event in Myrtle Beach, S.C., can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYZqwK4yv2E.
Another kind of racing
Mobile’s Thomas “Moose” Praytor has been at the Talladega Superspeedway testing his ARCA car for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200. The race is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
“Talladega is so much fun,” said Praytor, who has run as high as second in his last three restrictor-plate races. “The track is so smooth, you’re wide open and three-wide most of the day.”
Praytor has tested Hixson Chassis 4, nicknamed Tigger. This is the same car the Max Force/Hixson Motorsports Team raced at Daytona, Fla.
The ARCA outing is part of the Aaron’s Dream Weekend, featuring a full day of action. In addition to the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, there will be the Sprint Cup Series qualifying plus a Saturday night concert in the track’s iconic infield. The Aaron’s 499 race will wrap things up on Sunday.
As part of the weekend’s activities, a racing helmet— signed by Alabama football star AJ McCarron and worn by Praytor at the ARCA Mobile 200 and during the Talladega tests — will be donated to the Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind’s Race Fever Charity Auction.
“With the race on Saturday, we can enjoy Race Fever on Friday night,” Praytor said. “The kids are tremendous and the fans are off the hook. I really enjoy being able to be part of the festivities.”