A few RV industry companies in northern Indiana will try their hand at “boating” later this month in an effort to help the needy in their community through United Way of Elkhart County.

Supplier LaSalle Bristol will host the 3rd Annual Cardboard Boat Race Aug. 23-24 at its corporate headquarters in Elkhart, Ind. Other industry companies currently registered for the event are Thor Industries Inc. and Cummins Onan.

Entrants must race their boats through a pre-set course around LaSalle Bristol’s corporate pond. All of the boats are handmade by the participants, fashioned out of corrugated cardboard and duct tape.

Water rescue teams in rafts will patrol the pond and provide hazards in the form of wakes for the boats during their laps. While trophies are given to the first three finishers, creativity outside of performance is awarded with special trophies such as the Way To Live United Award, new this year in honor of the charity’s 90th birthday, and The Wonder That Went Down Under Award for the most spectacular sinking of the day.

The event has gained such popularity since its inception that it is now conducted over two days instead of one, as in previous years. In 2010, the event had six entrants and about 200 attendees, raising just under $2,000 for United Way. Last year, it grew to the maximum 16 entrants and nearly 700 people with about $3,200 raised.

This year introduces the Buffet & Boats pre-event on Aug. 23 from 6-8 p.m. The exclusive ticketed dinner is limited to 150 people and will offer live music, a V.I.P. buffet catered by Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant and an opportunity for attendees to choose their favorite boat for the People’s Choice Award. The race’s celebrity judges also critique the boats for the Judges’ Choice Award and meet with the teams’ captains.

“The pre-event is a little something extra so our donors can see the boats beforehand and hear some great music,” said Jessica Koscher, vice president of resource development and marketing for United Way of Elkhart County. “It’s a fun way to gather in a more relaxed atmosphere before everyone gets amped up for the race the next day.”

The boat race on Aug. 24 is open to the public with the first heat starting at 3 p.m. and an awards ceremony taking place after the final heat. Lucchese’s will be on site with a lunch counter offering dishes such as sandwiches and pasta.

“I recommend people coming nice and early on race day. That gives everybody time to meet the captains and look at all the fun designs of the boats before they get put in the water,” said Koscher. “And that’s a really good idea because some of those boats don’t stay afloat for very long.”

LaSalle Bristol has always been the host of the cardboard boat race. Rick Karcher, CEO, said the company is a long-time supporter of the United Way, and he personally has been involved with the group for 26 years and is a current board member.

“I’m a big believer in United Way. Almost all their donated dollars go directly to the people who need it,” Karcher explained, expressing a hope that even more area companies in the RV industry will support the charity. “With the amount of unemployment in our area these days, we need to give back to the community. United Way is really focused on helping people with things like education, health issues and income issues. Supporting them in these difficult economic times is a great way to give a hand to the people around us that really need it.”

– RVB Contributor Barb Riley