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November 2021

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Speed on the Water is Family Affair for
Oklahoma Father-Son Wiremen

George Goff isn't one to sit around and watch, or relax, for that matter, unless you consider piloting a boat over choppy waters at speeds approaching 150 mph as relaxation.

Despite growing up in Tulsa, Okla., he's not much of a football fan, even of the legendary University of Oklahoma teams. Unlike some fellow brothers and sisters at Tulsa Local 584, the now-retired journeyman inside wireman had no patience for hunting or fishing.

But as a young apprentice in the early 1970s, he remembers a friend bringing a drag boat to a lake in eastern Oklahoma. Call it a need for speed if you like, but he got hooked on drag boat racing and started a family tradition.

"One thing leads to another," Goff said with a laugh. "Next thing you know, you're off doing something stupid."

Nearly 50 years later, the 72-year-old Goff remains an active driver on the Southern Drag Boat Association Tour, which consists of races in Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona; and on the Kentucky Drag Boat Association Tour, which consists of races in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. Speed and even a little sense of danger remain a calling card.

"The best way to describe it is I just have an affinity for those things," he said. "I can't get away from them."

His son, also named George and referred to as GW, has the same temperament and became a driver. He's good enough that he's not only driving on the southern and Kentucky tours but also getting opportunities to drive better-funded boats on other circuits. He also followed his father into the tools as a journeyman inside wireman and Local 584 member.

GW remembers sitting on his father's lap when he was about 4 or 5 years old on a family outing while the elder Goff drove a boat across the water. The son remembers going more than 100 mph.

From then on, he was hooked. He played other sports, but when he turned 16, he gave them up and devoted himself to the drag boats.

Nothing beat a hot, sunny day on the water, whether it was a race with his dad after hauling their boat hundreds of miles or hanging out with friends on the Grand River near the family's home in Choteau, Okla., about 35 miles east of Tulsa.

"I was around it and I loved it," GW said. "When I was a kid, if I was not at the races, we were at the river. Where we went, there was always 15 or 20 boats like ours that were out there. It was so much fun."

Drag boat racing has never had the mass appeal of auto drag racing on land, but the sport has a small, faithful following.

Media exposure is limited. So it comes as little surprise that both Goffs say participants truly do it for the love of the sport. Nearly all drivers work and maintain their boats themselves. Any prize money goes back into them, or the cost of transporting them. There are also entry fees — sometimes around $500 per race — and extraordinarily high costs for insurance.

The younger Goff said a race weekend can easily cost $3,500. Prize money helps but it doesn't nearly offset it.

"It's a second mortgage," GW said. "It's like a very expensive hobby you don't make money at."

Added George: "You better be doing it because you like it. If you're looking to make money, go get another job. It's a lot more expensive than having a kid."

George admits he wasn't crazy when his son told him he wanted to pursue driving. The sport is safer now than it was when the elder Goff started in the 1970s, or during the 1980s, when some fans and drivers worried a series of fatalities might doom it for good. The last driver fatality in a sanctioned race was in Marble Falls, Texas, in 2015.

"Nobody wants to see their kid get hurt," George said. "I would have rather he played golf."

GW attended college for three semesters before leaving and following his father into the trades. When his father knew he was serious about racing, he helped him pick out the proper boat after his son's initial boat was a "pile of junk," he said.

The younger Goff said safety concerns do enter his mind, especially now that he's a family man. He and his wife — who puts his boat in the water before every race — have a 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the two travel with mom and dad to all the races when it doesn't interfere with their own sporting events, much like GW traveled with his father.

Asking him to give the sport up is like asking a librarian to give up reading.

"For me, it's just all I know," he said. "The adrenaline and the thrill of it, it's hard to explain."

GW said he is thankful his longtime employer, signatory contractor Brown Electric, has been flexible with his work schedule so he can make the races. His experience as an electrician also comes in handy in his "hobby," especially when it comes to caring for the boats. As his father noted, drag boats take a beating because of the high level of horsepower.

"Motorsports have become such an electronic world with all the electronic timers and everything else," GW said. "Everyone is using them and you have to keep up. It's not just a regular ignition and you throw it into gear, so electrical knowledge definitely helps."

At this stage in life, George said he takes more delight in his son's success than his own. In addition to being the dominant driver on the southern tour, GW recently began driving for a team in the National Jet Boat Association in California.

Unlike on the southern circuit, GW doesn't have to worry about taking care of his boat. The boat's owner brings him and his wife in for each event and pays all the expenses.

"Those are the flat-bottom boats that are the hardest of the boats to race," George said. "In these top-fuel races, when we are in the pits, everyone wants to talk to GW."

The Goffs aren't giving up on the sport anytime soon. George has a good retirement thanks in part to an IBEW pension. He's looking at knee-replacement surgery in the near future but is hoping he has another year or two left driving. GW is recognized as one of the best drivers and loves the family-friendly atmosphere of each race.

In fact, don't be surprised if a third generation of Goffs is racing in a few years. Both children seem to enjoy it as much as their father and grandfather.

"Drag boat racing is like a family event," GW said. "When racing is over, that is when everyone is hanging out and partying and having a good time. Everyone has their wives or kids or girlfriends there and they are just as much a part of it.

"People want to win. But during the races on Sunday, if you have an issue, or need an extra 30 minutes to get in the water, someone will come over and help you fix it if they have a part."


GW Goff at the helm of his boat Electric Freeze Express during a recent drag boat competition.


Goff and his father, George Goff, pose with a fan in front of the elder Goff's boat, Bad Magic.


GW Goff in full racing gear.