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I have tried to start a discussion about the "state of the sport" and what needs to be done to increase its fan base, which will result in greater sponsor interest, more media exposure, more races, TV covereage, etc., etc., etc.
I have already given my thoughts on the discussion tab of the H1 Unlimited website, but I would like to hear more input from more fans, and more input from H1 on their plans. Comments?
As the guest announcer on the televised San Diego race said “they don't make noise like NASCAR” That summed it up! Until we bring the noise of piston power back, the sport will continue to blow hot air. As exciting as it could be, the public just can't relate to the hair dryer sounds. All other forms of motor racing understand how important the sound is to the fans.
Just my opinion, Wayne J.
Wayne makes an interesting point, about the noise, but perhaps more importantly, the reference to NASCAR.
I think what we - and our sport - need to do is to take a lesson from NASCAR and learn how to package the sport of Unlimited Hydroplane racing as entertainment. Not the easiest of tasks and the possible solution could probably make for a nice Master's thesis at any good business school. The "spectacle" that is NASCAR racing is far from the pure "sport" of auto racing. Make no mistake, they do race - as in compete - in NASCAR, but I submit that few fans understand the nuances of things like pit strategy, knowing when to take 2 or 4 tires, and a lot of promotion. There might also be some appeal owing to the manufacturers' participation as fans might enjoy the "competition" between the Chevy they drive and the Toyota driven by some driver they love to hate. Not many of us drive a hydroplane to work.
I think the NASCAR analogy is apropos when it comes to Unlimited Hydroplane racing. NASCAR was for most of its tenure a regional sport. It was born out of bootlegging and was concentrated in the American southern states. Unlimited Hydroplane racing has enjoyed a far longer history and tradition, yet, like Formula One or Grand Prix racing, (arguably the pinnacle of their sport) was the playground of the rich and famous. Even today, F1 enjoys a modest following in this country compared to NASCAR.
Tim, I think you have nailed the components that our sport needs to attract a larger following. More TV, sponsors, etc. Before that can happen though I believe what is needed is a comprehensive approach to understand how to package the sport as entertainment. Now, that might seem like the last thing some of us would care to see, but if it isn't entertaining, it will never achieve popular acceptance. (read TV exposure, this sponsor appeal)
That said, I don't think I'd like to see Hydroplane Racing on the same cable channel as "professional" wrestling or Roller Derby, but without professional marketing, ala NASCAR, it may never become popular enough to gain any ground beyond, say SPEED Channel. Even with the long-lamented noise of piston engines.
I guess in its basic form, it's all about money. Someone simply needs to figure out how to make unlimited hydroplane racing profitable. At the risk of offending some very hard working and talented people, I can't think of anyone in our sport who wlil be the next Bill France or Bernie Ecclestone we need.
There are some terrific ideas and suggestions coming out of this thread and I agree with nearly every one of them. It is clear what the fans would like to see on the water.
What really needs to happen for the sport to grow, IMHO, is twofold; One: gain a much larger following of fans, most of whom currently know little or next to nothing about the sport. Secondly: Money... lots and lots of money.
Like popular stick and ball sports - even NASCAR - the REAL money does not come from the fans sitting in the stadium - or along the shoreline. The REAL money comes from and via Television - and not just Speed Channel or some local public access cable channel. Consider NHRA pro Drag Racing, the only same-day nationally-broadcast motorsports event currently in the NW. Well, since the Indy car races in Portland have been terminated that is. Even then it's pretty much just on ESPN's second tier channel.
To my mind, in order to gain a strong following of fans (of the sort that make for appealing demographics to not only television but the corporations who pay millions to see their products mentioned, or displayed with National exposure. Maybe even regional exposure would be a nice start. A 30' Unlimited Hydroplane deck makes for a pretty nice billboard. Come to think of it, I wonder what happened to Winston (as in Eagle), Pringles, Tide, Camel, Atlas van Lines.... I suspect Budweiser, well represented in other motorsports venues, was - with all due respect - pretty much Bernie Little enjoying his passion with Augie Busch's money. What happened to all these nationally recognized corporations? Maybe the search for a solution to our beloved, but declining - sport, starts in corprorate conference rooms
Now just one how does that, I don't quite know. I can offer that the recent delayed and edited broadcast of the San Diego race is probably not going to make the grade... I am pretty sure that even airshows, limited inboard racing between Unlimited heats and maybe even free beer and catered meals served by the Seagals or the Chippendale hunks is likely to do nothing more than keep the current fans - now much happier, of course - keep coming to the riverside or lakeshore.
So, I have no answers, but I do feel strongly that whatever the solution, be careful what you ask for: Most NASCAR races these days ask hundreds of dollars just for a single ticket, if you can find one to buy, and make Mariners and Seahawk ticket prices almost a steal.
My opinion, but you asked... This a forum isn't it?
I have been a fan since the late 1950s and my favorite hydroplanes from that era are Miss Thriftway and Miss Bardahl. I built gas powered models of both plus Miss US5 (yeah, I know, EASTERN boat). I have watched the heyday of piston powered boats and have watched two races live in Seattle. With that as background, some comments:
About noise. Bringing back piston powered boats is not going to save hydroplane racing, even if somebody found a hundred new-old-stock R-R Merlin or Allison engines. It is very old technology and I personally find the turbine boats more technically interesting. If you want piston powered noise, you should attend the National Air Races in Reno. Oh wait! A once a year event, not televised, with no big money sponsors, hardly any spectators. But the noise is wonderful.
NASCAR. The genius of NASCAR has been in the marketing. It has grown the sport from regional to national level and created hundreds of thousands of fans, has television and big money sponsors. What NASCAR has done really well is to publicise the drivers to the point where fans identify with "their" driver, know his car number etc. What NASCAR has also done is to create the world's largest spec racing series. The cars are identical except for the paint and decals, the motors put out the same noise and horsepower, the suspensions are the same, they rely on obsolete carburetors where the automotive world has gone with injection. I also happen to think NASCAR races are BORING (yes, I know, a heretical statement). What I want to see in racing is speed and skill, the latter from the driver as well as the team. What I get from NASCAR are artificial speed restrictions (restrictor plates) and 30 odd cars driving side by side for hours. And if anyone gets a decent lead through skill, they wave a phantom caution for debris on the track and bunch everyone back up again. Finally I think NASCAR has reached the limits of its growth due to market saturation.
Spec racing. I don't like it as you can tell from my comments above because I don't think it is interesting for the hardcore fans. And I cringed this year when no less than Chip Hanauer suggested this as the saviour of hydroplane racing during this year's Seafair. Now Chip is one of my favorite drivers, and I am sure he had good reasons for this suggestion, but in my view it will not save hydroplane racing (or any other top level professional race series). It is an artificial means of limiting innovation and leads to uninspiring racing.
So what is the attraction of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing? think this is the key to it's success in the future and I'd like to hear more discussion on this topic. For me a couple of things. First is that it is "unlimited". Now this may not be true in practice, but the idea of an "unlimited" racing series is mesmerizing. The last "unlimited" series I can think of is the Can-Am sports car series in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eight litre Chevys in McLarens, and 1000 hp turbo Porsches. Glorious performance that eclipsed Formula 1 cars. Second, and I have touched on this previously: speed and skill. These are after all the fastest closed course racing boats in the world and so the thrill and majesty of raw speed are always going to be there. It has been said that speed is the 20th century's only new narcotic (most of the pharmacutical ones are rightly controlled). So the speed needs to be celebrated. How to do this? More cameras. More cameras on the course in dramatic locations, above the course and most important on the boats themselves. Let's have a driver's front view, both side views and a rear view on each boat and educate the TV director on how to make the most of these dramatic shots. Do split screens when boats are racing closely. And the cameras can help show the driver's skill as well if you had a shot of the steering wheel, the throttle and canard pedals. And why not a graphic showing speed and acceleration on the onboard shots like car racing?
Now how do you go about tightening up the racing so the winner is less predictable? Well on the turbine boats I think a fuel restrictor has been tried, although I admit I don't know how it works. I will suggest a solution by Keith Duckworth noted Formula 1 engine designer which is a fuel volume control. You can have as much fuel as you like, but the device only allows a maximum flow to the engine. This allows for any engine and any hull configuration.
I also think the race course can be easily redesigned so that there is a greater opportunity for overtaking. Since the inside lane has such a great advantage currently, why not make the turn radius MUCH smaller? This makes the boat on the inside have to decelerate more and go around the corner slower. The boats on the outside have a larger radius and can carry more speed and should be able to pass.
Hope some of this leads to further discussion and ideas.