Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Small Towns Go Big Time

The Current H1 North American schedule has three major metropolitan areas, one smaller metropolitan area, and a race to be potentially added next year (Houston) in yet another big city.  A look at the hydroplane race sites of the past shows that a number of other major metropolitan areas (Miami, Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix, Nashville, Washington, DC etc.) and small cities (Evansville, Norfolk, Las Vegas,  etc.).  Clearly, the major leagues of hydroplane racing is usually at home in major cities.

This isn't always the case, however.  Sometimes, the major leagues of hydroplane racing will hold an event in a town barely big enough to house a sandlot team.  The most obvious example of this is Madison, which has been a regular stop on the Unlimited Hydroplane tour since 1955 and has been hosting continuously major regattas longer than any city with the exception of Detroit.  Despite Madison being the only current small town stop on the H1 Unlimited Air National Guard Series, there are a handfull of other small towns who have hosted Unlimited races through the years.  Despite being small in number, these towns show that nearly any town with an adequate lake or river and the proper organizational skills can host an Unlimited Hydroplane race.  Here is a rundown of those small towns who have had stops on the Unlimited tour.  Starting with the most recent first:

Valleyfield, Quebec (population 39,672) Much in the same way that Madison stakes claim to being the boat racing capital of the Midwest, Valleyfield could be called the boat racing epicenter of Quebec.  The small community on the St. Lawrence River hosts a major regatta that draws a number of classes and thousands of fans every year.  In 2005 the Unlimiteds came for an exhibition and were such a big hit that the decision was made to have a full race there in 2006.  The problem was that once the race took place there it became clear that the site was less than adequate for an Unlimited event.  Although the interest was definitely there, the small (less than two miles long) course was so narrow that it was impossible to even have two Unlimiteds on the straightaway at the same time.  The race was set up so that there was a start/finish line on both the frontstretch and the backstretch, with the two boats on the course at once effectively making time trial runs.  During qualifying, the Ellstrom boat lost a rudder and crashed onto the beach, leading Villwock to go on the air and criticize the Valleyfield site.  Mike Allen would win the race in the II, his only win in his career and the team's only win in a year where they would win the championship, ironically beating the team who would ultimately finish second in the High Point race that year.  Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto.  Although the race was a hit with the fans and many people involved with the Unlimiteds liked the match race format, the decision was made by the organizers of the Les Regates de Valleyfield to not have the Unlimiteds back due to safety concerns.

St. Clair, Michigan (population 5,802)  St. Clair perhaps holds the record for longest period of time between Unlimited Hydroplane regattas. The small town north of Detroit hosted a regatta for a number of years during Unlimited racing's golden era of the 1950's.  The race was known as the International Boundry, a nod to the fact that the U.S/Canada border actually ran through the middle of the race course.  The first Unlimited race in St. Clair took place in 1955 and, like many Unlimited races in that era, only a handfull of Unlimited hydroplanes showed up.  The Such Crust III finished first in a field of six hydroplanes.  Gale VI won the 1956 race while Chuck Thompson drove the Short Circut to victoyy in the 1957 race.  Legendary Canadian boat Miss Supertest won the 1958 race in which only five Unlimiteds attended and only two of those five scored points.  The 1959 race was essentially an exhibition raced among  Detroit-based hydroplanes, with Miss Detroit winning the invitational non points event.  The 1960 St. Clair was another exhibition, although two non-Detroit boats also participated (Nitrogen Too, Miss Buffalo) with Gale V taking top honors.  According to Fred Farley, as prize money became an expectation at Unlimited Hydroplane races, smaller events like St. Clair began to fall by the wayside, and after 1960 the International Boundary Regatta fell by the wayside. 
In the early 2000's, there began to be interest in reviving the St. Clair event, culminating with a 2004 return to the St. Clair River, forty four years after the last event at St. Clair and forty six years after the last point race there.  Unfortunately, the event  was held during a long and heated dispute between race sites, race teams, and Hydro-Prop, resulting in only six boats attending the event.  To make matters worse, the Unlimiteds were forced to concede the track to Oceanliners, which often left a huge wake.  The first two sets of heats went off essentially without incident, but for the third heat the winds picked up, turning the river into an innavigable mess.  Only two boats finished the two heats in which the boats were barely even at planing speed for the entire heat.  After that it was determined unsafe to run a Final and E-Lam Plus was declared the winner based on points.  A victim of weather, Oceanliners, and the bitter dispute that was tearing apart Unlimited Hydroplane racing at the time, the St. Clair race fell by the wayside as sanctioning transferred from Hydro-Prop to the ABRA.  It does hold kind of an odd place in history, however.  With the San Diego event running as an unsanctioned "outlaw" race that year the 2004 St. Clair race holds the distinction of being the last race ever run under the auspices of Hydro-Prop.

The last two heats ever held under the sanctioning of Hydro-Prop

Lake Ozark, Missouri (population 1,586) Easily the smallest and most isolated community to host an Unlimited event in the modern era, the Unlimiteds came to the Lake of the Ozarks in 1983 and 1984.  The event is memorable primarily for its 1983 race, when Ron Snyder drove the Miss Madison (known as the Rich Plan Food Service that year) to an upset victory after the Atlas Van Lines and Miss Budweiser got off to terrible starts when the pre race cat and mouse game took them both out of the running.  It was the first victory for Miss Madison since 1971, the second for popular longtime driver Ron Snyder, and would prove to be one of only two race victories for the Miss Madison team for a twenty nine year stretch between 1972 and 2000.  Jim Kropfield drove to victory in the 1984 Missouri Governor's Cup after perennial rival Chip Hanauer and the Atlas Van Lines was slow at the start.  Not surprisingly, attendance was an issue for both years in the isolated, sparsely populated area around Lake of the Ozarks.  There was also a tremendous inconsistency in scheduling, as the 1983 race was held in May (the first Unlimited event of that year) and the 1984 race was in late September (the second to last event for that year) so that probably had an issue with keeping attendance down as well.  Although it was a great natural venue for Unlimiteds to race on, 1984 would be the last year for this race that was quite literally held in the middle of nowhere.

Ogallala, Nebraska (population 4,930)  The small, out of the way town, best known as the place where cattle coming in from cattle drives was loaded on the Transcontinental Railroad in the 19th century as well as lending its name to the nation's largest underground lake, hosted an Unlimited race in 1980.  I have not been able to find much information on the race, other then the results. Bill Muncey won the race in the Atlas Van Lines and Miss Madison came in second with Miss Budweiser coming in third.  Indicative of the small Unlimited fields of the late 1970's and early 1980's, only eight boats attended the race in Ogallala, with five of those scoring points and three finishing in the Final.

El Dorado, Kansas (population 13,021)  For whatever reason, the Unlimited schedule of 1980 had not one but two races in small towns on the Great Plains.  The El Dorado race was actually held for two years, with very few boats showing up at both races (although once again that's probably more telling of the era of Unlimited racing than it is the actual site, boat numbers were steadily dwindling during this time as Merlin and Allison engines became more and more sparse).  Bill Muncey bested a field of five Unlimiteds in the Atlas Van Lines in 1979, while Dean Chenoweth  was victorious over a field of five in 1980.  Much like the Ogallala event, I haven't been able to find any information on the El Dorado races beyond the results.  If someone has some information on the races and how they came to be please share it.  It seems like it should be less than a coincidence that two small towns on the plains decided to hold Unlimited races at the same time.

Guntersville, Alabama (population 8,197)  The small town in northern Alabama is perhaps the best known of any of the small town race sites in Unlimited Hydroplane history with the obvious exception of Madison.  The Dixie Cup race was held seven times between 1963 and 1969 (not held in 1967 or 1968) and served as the season kickoff each time it was held.  Before an official race was ever run there, however, Lake Guntersville was on the minds of the hydro world.  It was here that in April of 1962 Roy Duby drove the Miss US to the mile straightaway record, becoming the first person to ever go over 200 mph. in such an attempt a and establishing a speed record that would stand until 2000.  In the first Unlimited race in Guntersville, Ron Musson drove the Miss Bardahl to victory.  In 1964 Bill Muncey won in the Notre Dame.  Buddy Byers was officially second in the Miss Madison although he tied the Notre Dame in points and actually finished first in the Final Heat (the tiebreaker in those days was based on elapsed time).  In 1965 Buddy Byers once again finished first in the Final Heat at Guntersville in the Miss Madison and this time he won the overall race as well, the first major race win in Miss Madison history.  After a two year hiatus, the Dixie Cup was back on the schedule in 1968, with Warner Gardner driving the Miss Eagle Electric to victory.  Bill Sterett would  win the 1969 Dixie Cup behind the wheel of the Miss Budweiser, a nice starting point for what would prove to be that team's first of many championship seasons.  No more Unlimited races were held in Guntersville after 1969, although the site would be remembered for years thereafter due to it being the site of Roy Duby and the Miss US's record setting speed run as well as the first race win for the Miss Madison.  I'm not sure what led to the demise of the race here.  From what I have seen the race always drew a good crowd (as well as a lot of media attention) and always had decent purses for that period in time.  perhaps the small northern Alabama town was deemed too isolated to hold an Unlimited event, although this is one race I would like to see restored.  The area is clearly a hotbed for racing (Talladegga Superspeedway isn't far away from here) and it is a nice natural venue.  A possible return to Guntersville was mentioned in passing by Sam Cole a few years ago but nothing more ever came of that.  If Unlimited Hydroplane racing ever returns to the Southeastern United States, I think Miami and Guntersville would be the two natural choices.

New Town, North Dakota (population 1,925) Another race site in a small Plains State town on a reservoir lake, New Town was, like Lake Ozark, another small out of the way resort town that briefly hosted an Unlimited race.   The 1964 Dakota Cup was an exciting daylong duel between the Tahoe Miss and the Miss Bardahl, with Ron Musson able to drive the Miss Bardahl to victory after the Tahoe Miss conked out in the final.  A return event was scheduled for 1965 and eleven Unlimiteds made their way to North Dakota, but rising waters, high winds, and massive amounts of debris meant that none of the boats were able to even able to be put in the water.  As sponsors lost a great amount of money for the no contest race, the Unlimiteds never returned to New Town.

Stateline, Nevada (population 1,215) Another resort town, the small town on Lake Tahoe best known for casinos hosted an Unlimited race for a number of years.  The event was effectively a replacement for the Reno race, as Lake Tahoe proved more apt to hosting an Unlimited race.  Miss Bardahl was able to win the 1962 race, edging the $ Bill in elapsed time.  The 1963 was once again won by Miss Bardahl, but only one heat of competition was completed before the event was forced to shut down due to weather concerns.  Miss Bardahl made it three in a row in 1964, sweeping all three heats.  In 1965 the UIM World Championship race was held on Lake Tahoe and boasted the largest purse in Unlimited racing up until that time.  Once again, the Miss Bardahl was victorious.  The World Championship race would be the last on Lake Tahoe.  It is not clear what led to the demise of the race, although it is not unheard of for races to fall by the wayside after offering a huge purse for an event (Owensboro met a similar fate after hosting the Gold Cup in 1977).  Also, Lake Tahoe's high altitude was hard on the engines of the time, and attrition was always high at the event.  

Chelan, Washington (population 3,890) The small central Washington town at the foot of Lake Chelan held a race with the amusing name of the Apple Cup from 1957-1960.  For all four years the event was the first race of the year and acted as almost a "sending off party" for the Seattle boats before they made the trek east.  A 1983 article on the Apple Cup by Bob Senior described the Chelan of 1957 as a town of 250 people and forty miles away from any other city. Bill Stead in the Maverick was able to win the tumultuous first event that saw many of the top competitors fall by the wayside.  The 1958 event was much more competitive and saw Norm Evans drive the brand new Miss Bardahl to the first of many race victories.  More weather issues plagued the 1959 running and the Final Heat was forced to be cancelled, with Chuck Hickling winning the Apple Cup on the strength of two heat wins.  Bill Muncey won the 1960 race at the wheel of the Miss Thriftway.  After 1960 the Apple Cup was no more, citing crowd control problems and increased expenses.  It should also be mentioned that during the time of the Chelan race there were also Unlimited races on the schedule for Seattle and Coeur D'Alene, Idaho on the schedule so it would be easy for this small town race in the Pacific Northwest to get lost in the shuffle.

Elizabeth City, North Carolina (population 18,683)  The small northeastern North Carolina port town was regular stop for the Unlimiteds during the 1950's.  The race, known as the International Cup, served as the hometown race for longtime hydro personality Henry Lauterbach.  The Gale V won the inagural event in 1954 attended by five boats from Detroit.  Danny Foster won the 1955 race behind the wheel of the Tempo VII 1956 International Cup in the Miss US I.  In 1957 the race was officially an exhibition and actually took place on the same week as the Madison race.  The Miss US IV was the only Unlimited to show up that week and was declared the winner by default.  The last International Cup race was in 1958, with the Miss US taking first in a field of four boats.

New Martinsville, West Virginia (population 5,984) This small, sleepy Ohio River town held a regular race during the early years of Unlimited racing, although it was no more by the time of the formation of the URC in 1957.  Although the New Martinsville race's history was entirely in the unorganized pre-URC days of the Unlimited class, the race was often able to draw the top Unlimiteds of the day from the east as well as one very memorable crossover from the west and hosted some memorable regattas.  The miss Peps V would win the first postwar race in New Martinsville with Danny Foster at the wheel, but for the rest of this race's history the Dossin's entries would see a lot of misfortune on this Ohio River course.  The 1948 Imperial Gold Cup went to a 7 litre boat known as the Tomyann.  A huge field of 86 boats came to race in nine different classes in 1949.  In the Unlimited race the My Sweetie and the Such Crust were tied on points but the victory went to the My Sweetie on average speed by a scant half a mile an hour average.  The 1950 Imperial Gold Cup race saw a spectacular accident, as the Miss Pepsi capsized in a turn while leading the field.  This allowed Chuck Thompson in the Delphine X to take the victoryIn 1951 a field of eight boats that included the Miss Pepsi, Hornet, and Gale I came to New Martinsville but Bill Cantrell was the best of the fleet, winning both heats in My Sweetie.  The Dee Jay V, one of only a handfull of boats built after World War II that was not only a Gold Cup class boat but also employed a riding mechanic, won the 1952 race after mechanical problems struck the Miss Pepsi and the Miss Great Lakes III.  The 1953 race was a classic.  The Slo-Mo-Shun V made the trip east for the race and was heavily favored.  Also there was the Such Crust III, one of the Slo-Mo's biggest rivals from Detroit.  A crowd of 50,000, huge for the standards of 1950's boat racing attended the event in the small West Virginia town that even caught the attention of the New York Times.  The Such Crust III suffered supercharger issues and was a non-factor.  The Slo-Mo-Shun V also didn't finish their only heat.  In the end, veteran Bill Cantrell won the Imerial Gold Cup behind the wheel of the Such Crust V.  Lee Schoenith won the last Imperial Gold Cup in 1954 in the Gale V.  After that year's race it was determined that the course was too narrow for the increasing speed of modern Unlimiteds, and the popular event was abandonned.

As can be seen, in nearly every decade of Unlimited racing there has been at least one small town that got the notion to host an Unlmited Hydroplane race.  And of course, the small town of Madison, Indiana has been a regular stop on the Unlimited schedule since 1954.  What it shows is that the task of a small town hosting an Unlimited Hydroplane regatta, while difficult, can still be done.  Most of the better known limited hydroplane regattas take place in similarly smaller communities so really this is where the grass roots of hydroplane racing lies.  So while hydroplane racing's major leagues is often raced in major cities, every now and then a one horse town will welcome the Unlimiteds and put on a spectacular show.

All population figures are from the most recently available census data and is not necessarily reflective of the size of the community at the time of the race.  My thanks to Leslie Field's Hydroplane History site and to Jim Sharkey's "Hydros Who's Who" for their information that was used in this post.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Exhibitions Everywhere!

News has broken in a big way in really only the last twenty four hours in the hydro world.  There are potentially three exhibitions that are going to be taking place before the end of 2011.   All of the exhibitions are taking the model of essentially testing the waters for having full races in the next year.  While having exhibitions in the middle of the season is never ideal, it has been done many times before and has often led to new race sites.  What the news shows most of all, however, is that cities and organizers are once again interested in having the Unlimited Hydroplanes come to their cities.

First, H1 has confirmed there will be a four boat exhibition in Sacramento.  This will take place on September 8 and include the U-11 Peters & May, the U-21 Miss Alber Lee, the 88 Degree Men, and a boat to be named later.  If you haven't already, you can read the whole release here:

The Unlimiteds briefly ran on Folsom Lake in the 1960's.  The first event was held in 1966 and was won by Warner Gardner in the Miss Lapeer.  In 1967 the fans on Lake Folsom witnessed a classic battle between the Miss Bardahl and the Miss Budweiser.  Yachting Magazine called the start to the final heat as "one of the best starts in Unlimited history" with all six boats right on the line as the starting gun fired.  Although Miss Budweiser won the final heat that day and was tied with the Miss Bardahl in points, the rules at the time gave the victory to the Miss Bardahl based on total elapsed time.  Despite all the excitement from that year's race, the hydroplanes wouldn't return to Sacramento again.  It is unclear what led to the demise of the Sacramento events.  Just guessing on my part, it is possible that Sacramento got lost in the shuffle at a time when Tri-Cities, Washington, Tampa, Florida, and Kelowna, British Columbia all had new Unlimited events and the San Diego race was still relatively new.   Also, the year of the debut of the Sacramento race was the year in which no less than four people were killed in an Unlimited Hydroplane accident, so it is possible that fans and organizers were leary about the still-new Sacramento race at that time.  Whatever the reason, the Unlimiteds haven't raced on Folsom Lake since 1967.

Signs of that began to change this year.  First, the Sacramento Kings NBA team came on board as an official series sponsor.  As Lon Erickson has pointed out, the team is owned by the Maloof family, who also owns the Palms resort in Las Vegas which has been the site of the Unlimited awards banquet the last few years.  The Air National Guard display boat has also made some appearances around Sacramento earlier this year.  Finally came the official announcement earlier today of September's exhibition.  Apparently the exhibition will primarily be to exhibit the boats for community and business leaders in Sacramento, which is a hoot in and of itself: some corporate events have wine mixers, some corporate events have a one hit wonder band from the 1970's, and some corporate events have Unlimited Hydroplanes.  The people putting on the event realize the potential economic impact of having an Unlimited race in their city.  There is talk of hopes of a full race for May 2012 in Sacramento.  Of course, May is also the month that is most often mentioned for a potential China race so if that's the case then logistics on both ends of the Pacific will take some work.  Whatever the case, it is nice to see organizers in Sacramento being proactive in bringing the Unlimiteds to their city.

Second, Hydro News has reported there will be a two boat exhibition for Abu Dhabi in October, a story that the Madison Courier picked up for today's edition.  It is reported that the U-22 Webster Racing and the U-25 Superior Racing will skip the San Diego race and have an exhibition during the time that Abu Dhabi will be hosting the UIM General Assembley and the F1 Tunnel Boat Nations Cup race.  There has been talk of a race in Abu Dhabi for many years now.  From my own memory I can remember seeing articles on the topic as early as 2007 with talk of a partnership with the Abu Dhabi International Boat Racing Association (ADIBRA) similar to the one with the QMSF in place now.  It is clear that there is interest in having a race in Abu Dhabi that has been festering for a while, the biggest question at the moment is logistics.  If there is a full race in Abu Dhabi in October in future years, it isn't clear if there will be enough time between September's San Diego race and an October date in Abu Dhabi to transport the boats, but likely those questions will be answered in time.

Finally, Hydro News is also reporting a third potential four boat exhibition in September.  The details on this are less than clear, but apparently the other exhibition would be in a race site that "has a history with hosting Unlimited Hydroplane racing."  The talk is  that the second September race will be on the East Coast, so putting two and two together the most likely site would seem to be Washington, DC.  Although there were also events in the past in Norfolk and Syracuse a return to the nation's capitol has been discussed for some time.  Once again, nothing about this event is anywhere close to being hammered down so all of this is speculation.

What all of this primarily shows is that once again people are becoming interested in having Unlimited Hydroplanes come to their city.  For more than a decade now, the Unlimited race schedule has never been more than six or seven races.  With all of the positive developments this past year, however, one can see the natural expansion of more race venues.  For those of us who are cursed with being Cincinnati Bengals fans, you will hear a lot of talk about the 1990's being a "lost decade" for the team (although that is really turning into a lost decades).  I presume for Unlimited Hydroplanes, it is possible that the first decade of the 21st century will be looked at as a lost decade by future obsevers and historians.  Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of great racing and great developments during those years, but in terms of race venues the schedule never grew beyond seven stops, with most years only seeing stops at the six traditional race sites until 2009.  Hopefully in the near future we will see the return of the Evansville race so that all of the six traditonal race sites will be back, and the North American schedule will reflect what was seen in the 1980's and 1990's with the six core races and a number of other race venues coming on the schedule.  Along with international expansion, the sport is at a healthier position than it has been in years.  Only now that isn't just a press release or a template being repeated by hydroplane media, it has been shown as true by the number of people interested in having an Unlimited race in their own city.  These are good times indeed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seattle Recap: I feel like this has all happened before....

A year ago this weekend, people were beginning to openly wonder if anyone would be able to beat the combination of Dave Villwock, the expert crew of Ellstrom manufacturing, and the financial backing of the QMSF on the water.  Steve David quieted much of this speculation after winning a classic deck to deck duel in the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison and winning the final at Seattle in 2010.

A year later, people were once again beginning to question if Villwock and the U-96 could be defeated on the water.  After winning four of the last five races, their only loss coming after the accident in Madison, and eleven straight heat victories.  Questions of if anyone in the field could step up and beat the U-96 were once again being asked.  Once again Steve David and the Miss Madison team stepped up to the challenge, and this time the Qatar boat was soundly beaten on Lake Washington.  A month after their boat sat in pieces in the Miss Madison garage, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison has come all the way back.

Seattle was another top-notch event in a year that has been full of great racing.  While there have been complaints that the inclusion of the air show, promotional events, and wakeboarding competition (?) have dilluted the importance of the hydroplanes at Seafair, the Unlimiteds simply stepped up and had another weekend full of spectacular deck to deck racing.  The Unlimited Lights also put on a decent show as did the Vintage Hydroplanes.  I would like to see P1 boats make an appearance at Tri-Cities and Seattle next year, but it might be hard to squeeze another series into an already crowded schedule.  Even at an event with a multitude of diversions, the Unlimiteds once again put on the best show.

Heat 1A was pretty routine, with Villwock and the U-96 taking first place.  The U-17 and the U-21 engaged in a great deck to deck duel, with Kip Brown nipping Brian Perkins at the line.  It proved to be all for naught, as the U-21 was disqualified after tech inspection revealed a fragrant fuel violation.  This allowed Scott Liddycoat, who had been late to the start, to finish third in the U-7 while the U-57 finished fourth and the U-25 finished fifth.  The U-11 lost it's prop as it left the dock and didn't make a start.

  Heat 1B saw Jeff Bernard grab the inside lane at the start, but Steve David was able to drive around
 him after one lap to give the U-1 the victory.  Bernard finished second.  Mike Webster, driving a boat that was performing better than it has all season, finished third after a great deck to deck duel with the U-9 who finished fourth.  The 88 had to cut through the infiled before the start after J.Michael Kelly was early to the score up buoy and finished fifth, the U-100 didn't finish.

Heat 2A was another barn burner.  The start featured a lot of dicing before the 1 minute period, but then the boats flew around the course.  The 88 went dead in the water in the first turn of the first lap.  It was determined that the U-17 cut him off and Kip Brown was initally given a one lap penalty but it was later determined that the foul was flagrant enough to disqualify the U-17 and penalize him 150 points.  The U-5 and the U-7 had another great deck to deck duel, with Scott Liddycoat nipping teammate Jeff Bernard at the line.  The U-21 finished fourth while the U-100 finished fifth and the U-25 trailed.

Heat 2B was another great deck to deck duel, this time between the U-1 and the U-96, with Villwock barely nipping David at the line.  The U-9 finished third while the U-57 finished fourth.  The U-22 was bumped at some point during the heat and didn't finish.  They also had enough damage to the hull to necessitate withdrawing for the day, which is a shame considering how well the team qualified and performed in the first heat.  The U-11 also recorded a DNF and was penalized 50 points for an infraction in the heat.

The first attempt to run Heat 3A had to be red flagged when the U-7 lost a prop while trolling before the start and was in the middle of the first turn.  This meant that Heat 3B would be run first.  The U-1 went down on power during the milling period and was late to the start.  This allowed the U-96 to win the heat easily.  The U-1 made an effort to chase down the U-5 but Jeff Bernard was able to hold Steve David off and finish second.  David's effort to chase down Bernard proved to be futile, as David was given a fuel violation and the U-1 was disqualified from the heat.  This allowed the U-57 to finish third.  The U-22 and the U-11 were scheduled to race in this heat but never left the trailer.

Heat 3A's rerun was another great duel in a year when great deck to deck duels are becoming the norm rather then the exception.  This time the duel was between the U-21 and the 88, with Brian Perkins coming out on top and J. Michael Kelly finishing second.  Kip Brown finished third in the U-17.  The U-100 was penalized a lap and finished fifth, allowing Ken Muskatel to finish fourth in the U-25, in a boat that very much looked like a 5 litre hydroplane after losing its stabilizer and cowling during the heat.

One of the interesting paradoxes about the Seattle race is that it has one of the busiest schedules of any stop on the H1 Unlimited Air National Guard tour, and yet they're the only race site that manages to squeeze in a provisional heat.  For the second year in a row, the Seattle Provisional was a great race.  The U-11, U-17, and 88 were all looking to rebound from disappointing weekends so the heat wasn't without top flight boats.  In the end the 88 grabbed the inside lane and was able to hold off the U-17 to earn the trailer position in the Final.

The Final Heat began as most other heats had during the weekend, with many boats trolling in the first turn.  Steve David was behind the field, but then made a daring move after the 1 minute gun where he sped around the field and went inside to grab lane one, pushing the rest of the field out.  Steve David was first out of the first turn, with Villwock and Liddycoat on his hip.  For the first three laps the order was 1-96-7, with Liddycoat not backing down and Villwock in hot pursuit of the U-1.  Then, on the backstretch of lap four, Liddycoat pulled off a cunning  move that would have been spectacular for any veteran driver, let alone a rookie like Liddycoat.  Running on the inside, Liddycoat war running slightly behind the U-96, but then crossed the U-1's wake and successfully executed a clean hip check on Villwock.  While this was going on, Steve David was able to pull even further away and won the Final Heat by a wide margin.  The U-7 finished and the U-96 in third, a full roostertail behind the U-7.  The 88 was able to go all the way from the trailer spot to grab a fourth place finish, a testiment to how well that boat can perform and Kelly's talent behind the wheel.  The U-5 finished fifth, considerably lower than might have been expected but when competition is this tight in the sport occasionally boats will get lost in the shuffle.  The U-57 finished sixth, and Mark Evans and the crew deserve a great amount of credit for being able to finish all of their heats on a weekend when attrition was widespread.  The U-21 apparently developed some kind of problem (the Kiro feed didn't mention anything about it) and wasn't able to finish the heat.

All in all, it was another fantastic weekend of fantastic boat racing in a year full of great racing for H1.  Seafair put on a great show.  I realize there is a lot of grumblings about how much time is given during the day to the air shows, but both the air show and hydroplane make for a great weekend of racing.  Anyway, the air show helps to draw fans who might not otherwise come to an event that's solely boat racing.  The Unlimiteds were still the stars of the show, with some great deck to deck duels and a number of great performances.  The Miss Madison team deserves a great amount of credit.  A month ago at this time, the boat was sitting in their garage with two damaged sponsons.  A month later, the team is back in their familiar spot at the top of the podium.  While the High Point title is probably still out of reach, the team has shown that they can rebound from even the most dire of situations.  It is still left to be seen if anyone in the field can step up to challenge the U-1 and the U-96, but if today's performance is any indication then Scott Liddycoat might be right there very soon.  On to San Diego.

As always, there will be the usual hiatus in the schedule between the Seattle and San Diego races so we'll have to wait another six weeks before another race.  It's always a little crazy as a fan of the sport to get so excited after the multiple race weekends in close succession (made all the more exciting this year by all the great racing that has taken place at all four race sites so far) then wait a month and a half for the next race.  With a Houston race slated for next year hopefully there won't be such a long hiatus in future seasons, and it would be nice to have another race in the future to further fill in the gap between Seattle and San Diego.

I should also note that, along with the H1 Unlimited Series, Thunder The Bridge will be going on a bit of a hiatus for the next few weeks.  Not only is there a six week break in the hydroplane schedule, but in those six weeks I will be moving to a new apartment as well as starting a new job, so needless to say I'm not going to have a lot of time to sit down and blog.  I'll still probably do a historical piece or two in that time, and if any news breaks in that time I'll do a commentary on that.  Just don't expect the posts to come as fast and furious as they have been coming over the last few weeks.  Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog, I never expected this to take off in the manner it has.  I really enjoy writing these posts, and the fact that I have gotten so much positive feedback makes writing this blog even more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seattle Preview: Who Will be the Purse Snatcher?

The H1 Unlimited Air National Guard Series continues this weekend in Seattle.  This has already been an exciting season, and the usually highly anticipated Seafair race has an added bonus this year for the winner.  For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, there is a prize purse for the winner.  The winner will receive a $25,000 purse to be split between the owner and the driver.  In addition the winning driver will be presented a new LCD TV, an X-Box 360, and a Windows Phone.  This purse, made possible by the joint sponsorship of AT&T and LG, has already garnered a great deal of media attention and is another example that the sport is clearly heading in the right direction.

So who will grab the purse?  Thirteen boats are expected at Seafair this weekend, one less than in Tri-Cities, as the U-99 is not expected to make an appearance.  The Seattle race serves as the hometown race for the majority of the teams and drivers and always draws a huge crowd.  So along with the added bonus of racing for the prize, many of the drivers and teams have the opportunity to win in front of their hometown fans.  It's left to be seen who will step up and grab the Albert Lee Cup.

The U-96 Spirit of Qatar has won the last two races and finds itself atop the High Point standings, but the boat has taken a beating in the process.  Dave Villwock has won eight consecutive heats after not starting his first heat in Detroit due to a gearbox issue.  Upon returning to the pits after winning the Columbia Cup the boat was left without a cowling which had been lost during the Final Heat, a cracked horizontal stabilizer, a smoking engine, and a borrowed gearbox.  Needless to say this is a testimony to Villwock's willingness to put the boat on the ragged edge and the crew's ability to supply a boat for him to do just that.  It is left to be seen if the boat will continue its dominant stretch or if all the bumps the boat has taken along the way to becomming the High Point leader will catch up with the boat.

The U-17 Miss Red Dot has had a coming out party in a big way this season.  The boat finished third at Tri-Cities and has won a number of heats so far this season, including all three of their preliminary heats in Tri-Cities.  It is left to be seen if the team can step up and win a race.  With owner Nate Brown, driver Kip Brown, and most of the crew members making their home near Seattle, I'm looking for these guys to make a big effort to win their hometown race.

The U-5 Graham Trucking had another consistent weekend at Tri-Cities, finishing fourth in the Final Heat and scoring good number of points along the way.  Jeff Bernard has been one of the consistently fastest drivers during his career in the Unlimiteds, but strangely only has one podium finish in Seattle, a third place in 2008.  Obviously the team would like to step up in Seatle and look to get back into the High Point championship race.

Rookie Scott Liddycoat has been nothing short of spectacular in the U-7 so far this season.  Despite only finishing sixth in Tri-Cities, it was another consistent performance for the team throughout the weekend.  Liddycoat is already drawing comparisons to Jean Theoret, the last rookie to make this big of a splash in his first season in the Unlimiteds.  It should be mentioned that Theoret won his first race in his first appearance in Seattle, so can history repeat itself?  That's left to be seen.

The U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto had a nightmarish first and second heat at Tri-Cities followed by a victory in Heat 3A and a second place in the Final where the boat led for three laps before taking a bad hop in the first turn of the fourth lap.  Despite the overall second place finish the team was only fourth in points scored at Tri-Cities and didn't make up any distance in the High Point chase.  Steve David and the Miss Madison hull have performed well in Seattle, winning there twice.  The team needs a big weekend to get back on track, and Seattle's short course might be the place to do it.  It should also be noted that the team will have the added sponsorship of Point Inside, an online shopping company, at Seattle.

The 88 Degree Men continues to get better and better each time the new boat goes out.  The team fell victim to unlucky draws at Tri-Cities, finishing second to the U-96 twice and the U-1 once before engaging in a great deck to deck duel with the U-5 for fourth in the Final.  J. Michael Kelly has shown an ability to drive in rough water as well as put the boat in lane one, both of which will be beneficial on Seattle's rough two mile course.  At least at first glance, the boat seems almost built for short track racing, but this weekend will be the test of that.

The URG entry will race again this weekend as the U-11 Stevenson Roofing Presents Miss Peters & May.  The boat has been a consistent performer so far this year, but has yet to qualify for an elusive Final Heat.  It would be no surprise if that changed in Seattle, but this season is looking more like a year when the team is just looking to get its feet wet in their new role as team owners.

The U-21Miss Albert Lee enjoyed a bit of a rebound in Tri-Cities where the team was able to sneak into the Final Heat as the trailer.  Now they come to the race where last year Brian Perkins drove the boat to a surprise third place finish.  A repeat performance is not out of the question this year, as the boat seems to always perform well on short tracks.

The U-100 Beacon Plumbing  had a bit of an uneven day at Tri-Cities, battling engine problems all day and failing to finish higher than third in any of its preliminary heats.  Greg Hopp was able to win the GPW race, though.  With a little luck and a consistent performance, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this boat on the front row of the final.

The U-57 had their best weekend of the year so far in Tri-Cities, finishing all of their heats and engaging in some great deck to deck duels along the way.  Mark Evans has won in Seattle before, but for a repeat performance there would need to be almost historic attrition.  This team keeps improving at every race along the way and Bianca Bononcini will certainly get some more seat time in Seattle.

Webster Racing's entry will once again race as the U-22 Project WSU in Seattle.  Also, the team is being allowed to use biofuels as the boat will act as a test vehicle for the anticipated conversion to biofuels next season.  This, of course is great news (read my blog entry on the topic) and will no doubt give the team a good amount of press coverage.  In the short term, the team's focus will probably be on Mike Webster being able to finish his heats and score enough points to ensure that the team will be in the top ten in High Points and thus have a spot for the Qatar race.

The U-9 Miss had a solid day in Tri-Cities that included a surprise second place finish in Heat 1C.  Driver Jon Zimmerman has continued his reputation as being a consistent finisher on the water.  Jones Racing will obviously want to have a good performance in their hometown race, and a start in the Final Heat isn't out of the question.

Ken Muskatel's boat will race in Seattle as the U-25 Miss Procraft Windows.  The team was finally able to score some points in Tri-Cities, as they finished all three of their preliminary heats.  I expect the team to approach the remainder of the season much like the U-22, and focus their efforts on making sure they have a top ten finish if Ken Muskatel chooses to race in Qatar this year.

A brief note on Houston and China

This was initially intended to be a tag-on to my Seattle preview, but I felt that the Seattle preview post should be focused on the Seattle event itself.  It's also long enough to be its own post.

As I'm sure you have heard already, the potential Labor Day weekend race in Houston is now officially off.  H1 did the right thing here, first in not officially announcing the race until being absolutely sure, and then deciding not to go ahead with the race when it was clear that safety was going to be too much of an issue.  Officially, the event is being called "postponed," as H1 and P1 still intend to hold an event on Clear Lake in Houston in 2012.  If you haven't already, you can read the official press release from H1 here:

Obviously this is a disappointment, as everyone likes to see another addition to the race schedule.  It's also a disappointment for P1, who was actually slated to headline the Houston event and the race was to play an integral part in that still new series' growth in the United States.  In the end, however, Mother Nature won out.  This is nothing new to the sport, as a hydroplane race is always going to be subject to the elements.  One does not have to go back too far to remember the 2008 Gold Cup race that was declared a no contest due to high winds.  The Madison Regatta was postponed until September in 1998 due to flooding, until October in 1974 as the city recovered from a devastating tornado, and, if you want to go way back, a regular MVPBA race in Madison was cancelled for 1937 and years following due to a devastating flood.

By all indications, the drought in Texas is reaching historic proportions.  Possible relief in the form of a tropical storm didn't come as it veered well south of Houston.  Water levels are down across the state.  As evidence of how much water levels have dropped, consider that a piece of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia, which had been submerged in Lake Nacogdeches northwest of Houston since the Shuttle's terrible accident in early 2003, has recently resurfaced.  Here's a piece on that story from NPR:

So obviously water levels in Clear Lake are much too low to have any kind of powerboat race there.  Personally this reminds me of a drought we had in Southern Indiana in 2007.  I had a friend who had a place on Lake Monroe outside of Bloomington and would often take boat out.  As the flood progressed in 2007, by the end of the summer the water line was a good fifty feet from the boat ramp, and people were having to go out another thiry or so feet once they got to the water line before the water was deep enough to launch their boats.  If the situation is similar in Houston, obviously there is no need to try to launch any boats from H1 or P1 there right now.  It won't last forever, though.  Once again using the example of Lake Monroe, once boat season started again in Spring of 2008 the water had returned to the boat ramp and people were able to safely launch their boats from there.  Hopefully the same will be true once Labor Day Weekend 2012 rolls around in Houston.

On another note, an article appeared  recently online that a race in China is in the works with an agreement reached to race in Linyi, China.  The article can be read here:

A China race has been talked about extensively in recent years, but this is the first time I've ever seen an article mention that an agreement has been reached as well as mention an actual location in China.  Now, this article seems to be written by someone who does not follow hydroplane racing closely, and I have never heard of the Kitsap Sun until reading this article.  With that said, however, I wouldn't doubt the legitimacy of the news if Ken Muskatel's involved, although hopes for a full fledged race in China might be premature.  As this season has progressed, usually the word "exhibition" is used when there's talk of a race in China.  The race still needs to be sorted out logistically, and clearly the article's mention of a race happening "either this year or next" is about as vague as one can be.  All in all, though, this is positive news and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a race of some form take place in China in the near future.

So in terms of race site development, we have seen disappointing if not terrible news with the Houston postponement and promising if not absolute news with the China agreement.  The one positive from both of these stories is that people do want hydroplanes to race at their venues, it's a matter of working out the logistics.  Obviously as fans we've been down this road of promised race sites before, but H1 has shown caution and a willingness to work out the best deal possible for a new race site that has been missing in previous years in the sport.  It is left to be seen if all the hard work of H1 will bear the fruit of new race sites, but the outlook is positive.  Will we see races in China and in Houston in 2012?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Day in the Life: August 5, 2007

                As Seafair approaches, it is time for the second installment of the series that looks back on one particular memorable race weekend.  For this post the topic will be the 2007 Seattle Seafair race, which was the first race win for the Miss Madison VI “Shark Boat.”  I invite any reader to share their memories of the 2007 Seafair race.

                Few race weekends can be pointed to as a definitive turning point in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, but the 2007 Seafair race is one of them.  It was here that the highly touted Miss Madison VI, still in its first year of competition, performed as everyone expected and was a reward for years of hard work by the Miss Madison team.  As it would turn out, however, this would not be a pinnacle for the Miss Madison team but a springboard, as the team would find themselves on top of the sport in the years following the 2007 Seafair race.

Buildup: It can be said that people began anticipating the 2007 Seafair race before the boats even left the Seattle pits in 2006.  Jean Theoret had won the race for the second year in a row, while the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team was a strong second place.  During a post-race interview, Steve David made mention, intentionally or not, that the Miss Madison team would be building a new hull for the upcoming season.  The Miss Madison team, with the arrival of Oh Boy! Oberto as a sponsor in the middle of the 2000 season, Steve David as driver at the start of 2001, and Mike Hanson as crew chief at the start of 2004, had made the transition from a highly respected also ran to one of the best and most consistent team in the sport, but they were still having to make do with an outdated eighteen year old hull.  A new boat had long been rumored or talked about for a couple years, but this was the first and closest thing to any kind of official announcement of a new hull being built.  Oh Boy! Oberto has long been a sponsor of Seafair and multiple entries in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, but this gave them a chance to sponsor a state of the art hull and the Seattle based Oberto Sausage Company looked forward to the opportunity to show off the new boat at their hometown race in 2007.
                As the 2007 season came closer, attention in the hydroplane world and especially in Madison was in anticipation of the new Miss Madison hull.  With promises that new innovations would make this hull a contender out of the box, some were thinking that the Miss Madison team, runners up in the 2005 and 2006 High Point race, could finally win that elusive title in the upcoming season.  Just a few days before the season opener in Evansville, the public unveiling and christening of the new Miss Madison took place at the Madison boat ramp, and the fans got their first peak at the outrageous new “Shark Boat” paint scheme.  The fans loved it.  A couple people mentioned it made the boat look like a World War II fighter plane.  Others were reminded of the more colorful Unlimited Hydroplane paint schemes of the past, including the Miss Madison “Tiger Boat” when Kellogg’s was a sponsor.  After seeing the new paint scheme, anticipation was at a fever pitch for what was already one of the most highly anticipated boats in Unlimited Hydroplane history.
                At the onset of the 2007 season, however, attention quickly turned elsewhere.  The Ellstrom E-Lam Plus team won the High Point title in 2005, but in 2006 Dave Villwock lost a rudder and crashed into the shore at Valleyfield and the team was forced to use a backup boat driven by Nate Brown in Detroit and was left in the middle of the pack of the High Point standings.  In 2007, the team took the tour by storm, winning the first four races.  After striking a buoy in the Final Heat in Evansville, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat finished second in Madison, Detroit, and Tri-Cities.  At Madison, the Oberto boat beat the Ellstrom boat in a preliminary heat and was able to get on the inside of the U-16 prior to the start of the Final Heat, but Villwock took the lead on the second lap and went on to victory.  At Tri-Cities Villwock won his three preliminary heats and the final going away, with the Steve David back in second.  As Seattle approached, people were openly wondering if Dave Villwock and the Ellstrom E-Lam Plus could sweep the season’s races.

The Race: The Ellstrom E-Lam Plus was once again top qualifier in Seattle, with the Oh Boy! Oberto qualifying fourth.  In the first section of heats, the Ellstrom and Oberto boats were drawn apart and won their respective heats.  In the second section of heats they were once again drawn apart.  Steve David finished second in its heat to David Bryant in the U-10 Hoss Mortgage Investments, but then Villwock finished second in his heat to Jean Theoret in the Miss Beacon Plumbing.   Theoret, David, and Villwock were all drawn into heat 3B and Theoret came up on top with Villwock finishing second and David third. 
                As the Final Heat approached, the attention was on Jean Theoret, who had won the last two Seattle races and, after not finishing their first heat, had won the second and third heat going away, and Dave Villwock, who had won all the races so far in 2007.  In short, a two boat race for the Chevrolet Cup was expected.  Just as everyone was watching the Miss Beacon Plumbing and the Ellstrom E-Lam Plus, they were watching each other.  Villwock’s U-16 Ellstrom boat and Theoret’s U-37 Beacon Plumbing boat went into the second turn well before the starting gun fired and had to slow way down to the point that both boats lost power.  Then Theoret encroached on Villwock and lost power again.  As the field thundered by, Villwock and Theoret were scrambling to get their respective boats back up to speed.  Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto, a boat that had been all but forgotten in the discussion of who could win the final, wired a perfect start and jumped out to an early lead.  David Bryant briefly chased David in the very fast U-10 boat but it wasn’t to be.  The day belonged to Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison.   The new boat had delivered and reached its promise.   Longtime Miss Madison fans were immediately reminded of the 1983 Missouri Governors Cup race, when the Miss Budweiser and Atlas Van Lines boats were so concerned with each other they got off to horrible starts and allowed Ron Snyder, who wired the start in the Miss Madison (running that year as the Rich Plan Food Service) to take the victory. It was time to celebrate.

A personal recollection: I religiously followed updates on the new Miss Madison boat throughout the 2006-2007 off season.  There were updates regularly throughout the Winter and Spring in the Madison Courier as well as online.  I was there on the day of the public christening of the boat and shared in the excitement when the crowd saw the shark paint scheme.  At Madison I honestly thought the Oberto had a shot to win the hometown race for the first time since 2001.  As the Final Heat progressed and it was clear that the Ellstrom boat was going to win, a deft silence fell over the crowd.  I’ve never heard a Madison Regatta crowd so quiet.  The disappointment was clearly shared.  By the time Seattle rolled around, I had begun to think that 2007 would function as a “shakeout year” for the new boat and we would have to wait until 2008 for the new boat to win a race.  This was especially true as I listened to the updates on WORX and heard as the results seemed to indicate that the Oberto boat would have to figure out a way to get around boats that had finished ahead of it in the preliminary heats that day.  After the crazy Final and I went through my usual Miss Madison victory routine (having a few beers and calling everyone I know who’s also a Miss Madison fan) I just got to thinking about how great it was for the town and how this could be a turning point for the Miss Madison team.  I wanted to read all about it so I went to get on the ABRA’s (remember this was before the name change) website, the only problem was I couldn’t.  The excitement of the Oberto-Madison victory lead to so many people logging on to the ABRA website that the site crashed, a silent testimony to how exciting a day this was in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.

The Aftermath: Simply put, Seattle put the Miss Madison team on a roll.  Although the Ellstrom team would clinch the High Point total during the preliminary heats in San Diego, Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat would win a classic deck to deck duel with Jeff Bernard and the Formula Boats hull to win the Final (and once again cause the ABRA website to crash).  The following year, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team would win their first of three straight championships.  Before Seafair 2007, the Miss Madison team had won seven races and no championships in its 46+ year history.  Since Seafair 2007, the Miss Madison team has won eight races and three championships in a little more than four years.  It was clearly a turning point, although it goes without saying that the Ellstrom team still has the fastest boat on the water.  Although the Oberto-Madison team has hit a bit of a rough spot this season and is heading into the 2011 installment of Seafair fifth in points, that doesn’t take away from what the team has accomplished in recent year.  Seafair 2007 was the springboard for the most successful era of the long and illustrious history of the Miss Madison team.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Conversion to Biofuels, and why it matters.

It was announced over the weekend that the H1 Unlimited Air National Guard Series will make a conversion to biofuels for the 2012 season.  Although this news isn’t the attention grabber of a new sponsor or a new race site, this news could be the most important change that H1 has ever made.  Not only does it make the sport of Unlimited Hydroplane racing more environmentally sustainable, it opens the door for more innovation and gives the sport the opportunity to take the lead on a very important topic.
                Motorsports has a long history of innovation.  This dates all the way back to the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, when Ray Harroun had a rearview mirror installed on one seated his Marmon Wasp.  In powerboat racing, the innovations began first with the ability to plane over the water and have evolved from there to the modern, propriding, pickleforked, horizontal stabilizer, cabover, turbine powered, enclosed cockpit, thin propeller, large skidfin machines that race today.  Unfortunately, regulations and a refuse to change anything has stymied innovation in many of the more popular forms of racing today, as evidenced by the fact that NASCAR still uses carburetors and leaded gasoline.
                With the switch to biofuels, H1 Unlimited is grabbing an opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation and take the lead on a very important issue.  There is no guarantee that it will be successful.  IndyCar tried something similar a few years ago with a switch to ethanol, but that project was abandoned when further research showed that ethanol  was not as environmentally sustainable as first thought.  For H1’s purposes they will be using a blend of camelina (a plant that is native to the western United States and grows in the wild) and the usual kerosene Jet A fuel.  Boeing has been at the forefront of research & development of camelina and has used the biofuel on an experimental basis for some commercial flights. 
                H1’s use of the camelina based biofuel offers the best possible test vehicle for the new fuel.  Since performance is always a top priority in motorsports, the teams in H1 will certainly come up with new innovations and show haw the fuel can perform in ways that no one could have before imagined.  In 2009 Boeing partnered with the Ellstrom team to run the former E-Lam primary hull on biofuels.  With Chip Hanauer at the wheel the old hull actually posted a time that was faster than any of the qualified boats for the event.  Now it should be said that the boat wasn’t running with the same fuel restrictions as the other Unlimited Hydroplanes, it had one of the best crews in the sport preparing the boat, and of course one of the sport’s all time legends was behind the wheel.  Even with all that though, the fact that the old hull was able to turn a lap exceeding a 150 mph average shows that there was no considerable dropoff when using biofuels and perhaps it was even responsible for an increase in performance.  It is also a testament to the Lycoming T-55 engine, which is easily the most reliable engine in powerboat racing and perhaps even one of the most reliable engines in all of motorsports, as it can race on multiple kinds of fuel.  The next step in experimentation will be taken this weekend, as Webster Racing’s U-22 team will not only qualify but will race while using the biofuel.  It will act an experiment to test the feasibility of all boats making the change, but if one boat can change from petroleum based fuel to biofuel in one week, certainly the entire fleet can make the change in an offseason.
                This change is beneficial to the sport for a number of reasons.  First, the innovation gets more people involved in the sport.  Boeing is already getting more involved, as they see the benefit that H1’s use of biofuel in turbine engines could have for their own use of biofuel in aviation.  Washington State University is also on board with the project.  If the switch to biofuels is ultimately successful, it will lead to more individuals and groups willing to get involved in hydroplane racing and to offer their own innovations.  Naturally this will also lead to more sponsorships, as has already been shown by the Boeing and the Project WSU sponsored boats.  Also, an interesting point was made on WORX yesterday that this will garner more media attention for the sport, especially if there is some kind of speed record established but also if H1 shows that a conversion to biofuels can be made with either no dropoff or even an increase in performance.   Of course, more media attention will also mean more attention for sponsors so this is an all-around good experiment.
                Finally and most importantly, it makes hydroplane racing more environmentally sustainable.  I’m a big motorsports enthusiast, but I’m also concerned with the impact it has on the ecosystem.  I’m not what would be considered a treehugger by any means but I still realize the need for increased sustainability and to curb the wild rate of consumption.  If H1 can make a positive step in becoming more environmentally sustainable it will make me more proud of the sport I love than I have ever been.  Furthermore, if the innovations used in hydroplane racing can be applied to commercial aviation, then hydroplane racing can be seen as at least partially responsible for helping to make a cleaner planet.  All of this is why this weekend’s news of the switch to biofuels has the potential to be the most important news in many years for hydroplane racing.