Life on the water

To have one accomplished athlete in a family is something to be proud of. Having two is quite a feat. An entire family of four breaking records and being a prominent name in the world of powerboat racing, that's almost unheard of — unless you're the Shanes.

The Havre de Grace family — dad Stu, mom Robin and kids Kelly and Jimmy — all race hydroplanes and have won numerous awards and accolades. While Stu and his wife, Robin, no longer race, their two children are still making waves all over the world.

Even though they call it powerboat racing, it's more plane than boat. The hydroplane glides above the water at speeds that can reach in excess of 180 or 190 mph Wings on either side of the hydroplane keep it level and the driver steers from a steel safety cage.

The race — and track — is similar to that of NASCAR in that the planes go around a circled track and the races are timed. Instead of asphalt and concrete walls, though, everything is done on water.

"I always did boating from living in Havre de Grace," Shane, 59, said. It wasn't until 1969 when he saw the boats racing in town and thought, "Gee, I can do this," that he tried it for himself. His first race was that year.

He describes powerboat racing as "real competitive," explaining that "back in my time" 40 or 50 people would enter various classes for a race per week. A person had to place in the top 12 to just make the final round.

Robin Shane hadn't heard of powerboat racing when she and her future husband met, but it didn't take long for her to get into it.

"When I showed her a picture of my boat, which was in my wallet, she was very nice and said it looked cute," Shane wrote in an e-mail about their first date. For their second meeting, Shane took her to the boat garage where their hydroplanes were worked on. It didn't take any coaxing for her to be interested in the sport.

"We didn't have the funds to campaign two boats and I really didn't want to 'share the ride," he continued. "We had one race where there was testing allowed. She drove it there and didn't want to bring it back to the pits."

When Robin became pregnant, the couple made a deal that when their children "were old enough to take care of themselves on their own, I would build her a boat and she would race," Shane explained.

While raising Kelly and Jimmy, the parents didn't race, but instead "built a garage with a house above and started the metal business," he wrote. The two never expected their kids to take up the sport.

"[My sister and I] grew up in it," Jimmy Shane, 26, said. He said he started when he was 9 years old. "It's more than just a hobby or sport."

The youngest Shane explained that "the uniqueness of the sport, and the surroundings and the environment that you're in" are what have kept him hooked all this time. Another plus: international travel and stardom.

"They know us well in Canada," the family's patriarch said. He went on to say that there have been times when the family will be eating at a restaurant while in the country and will be recognized by fans.

The difference between American and Canadian fans, Jimmy Shane explained, "Fans down here watch the races and just come for a weekend at a time, but fans up there follow the sport and travel to races that are six or eight hours away."

Most recently, he made his second trip to Qatar to race in Doha for the Oryx Cup UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique) World Championship, part of the Air National Guard Series, from Nov. 17 through 19, when he drove in the unlimited hydroplane division, the highest rank in powerboat racing.

"It was a really neat experience to be over there and racing the highest you can go up," he said. Shane said the boats in Qatar go upward of 210 mph, and his boat clocked in at 198. He placed fourth in the finals. The race will be aired 4 p.m. Dec. 25 on Versus.

In May, Kelly Shane, 29, won the Hydroplane Quebec Canadian Championship in the five-liter hydroplane class, and in September came in second place during the race.

When Jimmy Shane isn't racing, he's thinking about it, he joked.

"It's a passion for me," he said. The whole family works at the family's metal shop, Shane Custom Metal Fabricators, on Webb Lane in Havre de Grace. "It's nice because we work really hard, but we also get to take time off to race."

He's starting to back down, though, trying to develop a balance between his racing life and his "normal" life.

When asked why he's backing away from racing a bit, he laughed and said, "Girlfriends would be nice."

His sister also has other plans than just racing; she recently graduated from Towson University with a degree in international business and management, Shane said, and is looking for a job that'll take her overseas.

Even though racing has become old hat to the Shanes, Stu still worries about his kids when they race.

"It's different when you're doing it," he said. Both Kelly and Jimmy have been injured while racing, but, he went on, safety features have become more sophisticated since he was their age and serious accidents occur less often.

The risks, however, are no deterrent for anyone in the family.

"I think it's why people race anything — once you do it, you love it," Stu Shane said. It's clear that everyone in the family, who cheer each other on during their races, absolutely loves it.

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