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.