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what needs to be done to increase the fan base and popularity of unlimited hydroplane racing

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?

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Philip,
At the risk of turning this into a discussion between the the two of us, I'd like to respond to your specific thoughts:
1. NASCAR: I've never been to a NASCAR event, but from a pure enjoyment standpoint I don't know how sitting in a crowded grandstand with dirt and dust blowing in your face could be as pleasant as sitting on the edge of a lake or river with a gentle, but not too strong, breeze in your face. And I think the unlimiteds are much more easily identified with their names and colorful paint jobs than 33 cars which are almost indistinguishable except for the numbers on the side. I think the danger for the unlimiteds is "going down that path" when almost every boat has a different name at each race, (something I think should be curtailed: one major sponsor for the year--make the best deal you can), and even a different color scheme. We don't need 33+ unlimiteds, just a few more teams that have a realistic chance of winning.
2. Spectacle: Unlimited hydroplane racing is already a great spectacle. But the problem, as I see it, is that most people don't want to spend two full days of their weekend watching 9 or 10 or even 12 boats compete in an event which could easily be decided in one afternoon, especially when there are only two or three boats with a serious chance of winning. The supporting events, be it Unlimited Lights or planes, should be just that-"supporting events"-not an excuse for "dragging out" the length of the entire program.
3. Spec Class: I don't think many current fans want "spec racing", including myself, but shouldn't there be some attempt to "equalize the competition? Steve Montgomery hinted that propellers might be a good place to start--everyone using the same with no advantage to the "genius" who makes his own, or has an unlimited bankroll. If I remember correctly, in the 1960s the rules prevented engine changes during the race aimed at just that, preventing the "corporate teams" from buying the win.
4. Sport: Boat racing must remain a sport to survive. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a show like professional wrestling, where the winner of each event is preordained. Many people probably think that already happened during the Budweiser era, when AB not only sponsored the race, but did all of the promotion, and won almost all of the events. Do you remember? They almost killed it, as a sport that is, turning it into one huge, spectacular commercial! The sports media people sure lost interest.
5. International: I don't think anyone who loves the sport, like you and I and many others do, is against international expansion, but some feel, as I do, that it shouldn't come at the expense of US races: the H1 people brag about the race in Doha and other events outside of the US but little mention is made about a return to Evansville, Miami, or Las Vegas--all previous regular annual events.
Finally, in reponse to Kerry, you're right----pie in the sky. But go back to sleep and dream on!
Tim Matyn


Philip Lampman said:
I should know better than to jump in again, but the discussion is starting to go around in circles with some great ideas, but my wife is involved in some sort of "Criminal Minds" marathon on TV and it's raining so I can't mow the lawn or wash the car...

Rather than debate some of the points made, or pretend to have the solution to growing our sport, I thought I'd simply post a few thoughts to perhaps change the direction of the conversation and create some other things for discussion or argument.

1: NASCAR.

Should NASCAR really be the model for Unlimited Hydroplane racing? Their sport is also in decline, despite great marketing and TV coverage. It's not just the lousy economy either. Television audiences are down substantially as well. The economy may be having some effect on ticket sales - when's the last time you actually saw an ad for Daytona 500 tickets, as I did during the Homestead race? But TV is "free".

Secondly, NASCAR needs only a race track (not a large body of water) and a lot of seats. Seats could be considered optional IMHO. Oh, and don't forget that the rules regarding car configuration, templates, et al.. At least they are "painted" to look like the cars many of us drive and perpetuate the rivalry between Ford and Chevrolet, Dodge, etc. Few, if any, of us drive an unlimited hydroplane to the office or shop every day

2: Added Events to "The Spectacle".

This probably makes sense although the addition of Unlimited Lights to the program at Seafair probably did not put a lot more butts on the shore. An Air Show is, to my mind, a mixed blessing. In Seattle, it's reached the point where the air show (okay, the Blue Angels) are more popular, according to Seafair's own polls, than the boat races. Thankfully the races did finish ahead of the Torchlight Parade. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't their a rule of some sort mandating that the crews cannot work on the boats during the air show?

In the end. we're trying to grow our sport, not put on an air show interrupted by a few heats of boat racing. I don't know about the festival organizers though. I wonder if they might be getting a better return on their investments of time and money just putting on an air show and abandoning the boat races? I don't know what the "deal" is on Sand Point, but can you imagine how much more popular the air show might become if spectators were allowed to see the planes up close on the tarmac and not just as a flyover?

3: Make the boats identical - a Spec Class:

There could be some arguments in favor of this idea, making the races more competitive, arguably. This might have some appeal to the "new" audience, but would probably drive the "purists" and "True Enthusiasts" away in droves. The idea hasn't worked well anywhere else (CART, IRL, SCCA - except at the amateur level). NASCAR is in some ways a spec class, but on TV they are Chevys, Fords, Dodges and Toyotas.

4: SPORT or Entertainment

Ernest Hemingway has been credited with the quote: "Mountain Climbing, Bull Fighting and Motor Racing are the only true sports. Everything else is just a game" NASCAR notwithstanding, are we ready to sacrifice our "Sport" to be marketed and promoted as a "Game"? I can't recall seeing "Friday Night Bullfighting" on TV lately. Even on FOX. Will we "prostitute" unlimited hydroplane racing just to save it? If so, maybe H1 should consider merging with the World Wrestling Federation. Talk about a sport - err, game - coming back from the brink of extinction...

5: International Appeal:

As I've said before in another of my late evening diatribes, The race in Qatar may be the key to the future of our sport. Look to Formula One Auto Racing - Grand Prix. In the 50's and into the 70's this was predominantly a European sport with a couple of venues in the USA and Canada. Now there are races in Singapore, Malaysia, the Middle East, Japan and now Russia. The sport seems to be more popular than ever. Could it be that we are getting a bit nervous about our sport becoming global? (like nearly everything else, save Surgery, Bar tending and VCR repair - oh,and haircuts))

Okay, I'm getting carried away. I simply wanted to add to the discussion some things that some of you may have not considered. My apologies if you have and I overlooked them in the earlier posts.

I think I need to get a job...

Now what?


Terry Edwards said:
I disagree, I don't think the difference between piston noise and turbine noise will increase the popularity of unlimited racing. But why don't you pursue your idea and approach Rolls-Royce (who incidentally now own Allison) and see if you can licence the design of either the Griffon, Merlin or Allison V-12 engines specifically for hydroplane racing. It would be much cheaper to do this and build engines from existing drawings than to create a new design from scratch just for a few dozen engines for unlimited hydroplanes.


Kerry Murphy said:


Terry Edwards said:
I disagree, I don't think the difference between piston noise and turbine noise will increase the popularity of unlimited racing. But why don't you pursue your idea and approach Rolls-Royce (who incidentally now own Allison) and see if you can licence the design of either the Griffon, Merlin or Allison V-12 engines specifically for hydroplane racing. It would be much cheaper to do this and build engines from existing drawings than to create a new design from scratch just for a few dozen engines for unlimited hydroplanes.
We can agree to disagree on the piston v.s. turbine. I still think that sport was hurt by taking the "Thunder" out of thunderboat. As for getting help from Allison, I doubt if they would care to help. I think it would be better to start from scratch than to use '40's technology think it still a great idea..if you have 16 teams..and each have 3 to 4 engines and all the parts they need...that is 60 engines right there. The turbines they are using are from the 60's and they won't last forever. The other option is a big block car engine..and that puts you back down to the lights. It all comes down to generating excitement! why were the hydroplanes more popular in the '50's 60's 70's 80's???? Maybe the enclosed cockpit, the sound of an overgrown hairdryer...has made people lose interest. No excitement. Doubtful you will ever capture the thrill of the golden era of the hydroplane.
I hope I am not interfering with Phil's response time so I will be quick. Maybe I'm selfish but I'm much more interested in bringing back "a Sunday of racing" in Seattle rather than anywhere else. I'd like to see this discussion result in action from the various communities where racing is currently held and take ownership and not rely on committees to ensure racing. In Seattle we have the luxury afforded no where else. What would it take to get Burien to rise to the challenge and adopt the "Miss Burien", Ballard the "Miss Bardahl", Bellevue, "Slo Mo V", the families of Associated Groceries the "Miss Thriftway", the employees of Boeing the "Miss Wahoo" and Kent the "Bud". Bring back to Pacific Northwest the sense of community boat racing brought to this area. I bet we could get it done! Restore the Roar to Lake Washington. Sure there is no money for vintage boat racing but put these grand old girls back on the water with community support and see what happens. Heck if a man famous for his chowder can step to the plate and help save a race why can't the rest of us. So for next year's boat races let's pit these girls at the Mt. Baker pits on Lake Washington run em from there and help H1 see what can be accomplished with old technology.
Contemporary types that are the majority now think they can understand everything from where they stand, who are 30-40 years old. The Unlimited's began before they where born. The "Slow-Motions, Miss Bardahls, Atlas Van Lines, Oh-Boy Alberto, Miss Thrifway, Miss Madison and of course Miss Budweiser, these younger types were not there with the excitement in 3-D. Beauty, Spectacle & Drama. Stand by a railroad and watch a Diesel Locomotive pull away from a station. Then stand at the same place and watch a steam locomotive pull away from the station. There is no comparison, the living, pulsing, specticle of steam, seaming to strain like a "Living Thing" moves you. This sport was when they raced powerful boats with very loud sounding engines, that would droan with a harmonic hypnotic sound and were capable of setting up long rooster tails. The crowd would get a spectacle in 3-D ! These boat races were very exciting events. Some of the factors that I feel pertain to the sport about loosing public interest was, the races were all about a oval race way. I think if there was a variety here it could have made it better, like a "Grand Prix", or down a river that can handle these types of boats. Also a person here mentioned that all to often one or two boats did all the winning, they are correct. The use of handicaps might have helped this, or "staging" as in horse racing. "About noise bringing back piston powered boats is not going to save hydroplane racing"~! The person that said this is not giving any credit or thought as to how this sport started and is probably very young. Your darn tooting brining back the old roar and droan, would help allot to make it more of a spectacle. Crowds come to these events to be entertained. What better than with , Beauty, Spectacle and Drama~!

Furthermore, planning these events to be successful is key. Plenty of attention has to be given Television, Sponsors, notification as to where and when the races are to be held to produce the most memorable event. Location of cameras on actual race boats is a practice in car racing now and I think is very good to get the public "in the experience"~! Locations and Dates are extremely important. Example: Chicago puts on a air and water show and is one of the most attended events in the nation, Blue Angels, et-al~! This could be a fantastic place to start the Renaissance of Unlimited Hydroplane Boats. "The Chicago Air & Water Show" has it's spectators book their stays in hotels a year in advance~!
first more money for the teams, better parking for the fans. Detroit is very bad, and has been for a long time. so what if they have the Gold Cup. a race is a race. Evansville In is the place for a great race, and are no longer having one. great people, nice tan, and great food. I think the races are in the wrong place most of the time. let the teams race, give the fans what they want, and enjoy. sports are not worth the money anymore. a day in the park is much better. the hydro's are sinking big time. where are the major sponsors to help them. ????????
Nascar is losing too, but have enough offical sponsors too keep them going for a while. time for a change.make it fun again. in my day it was a family reunion at the river with food, and fun. now it's a bunch of crap.

a old Bill Cantrell buddy, and employee, well he put me to work one day when I was 17 at the boat shop in Troy Michigan. had Faygo soda pop too :)
I think one of the problems with any solutions we as fans on this forum have is we're too close to the sport. We know the details of the history and personalities intimately. The VAST majority of dollar-paying fans don't. They couldn't tell Steve David from Steve LaCava. This is the audience that we need to attract. They're the ones that spend the day out there, buying hot dogs and beer and sun screen from the vendors. From where I sit on the beach, it's interesting to talk to the fans and find out what their motivation is. Most of them haven't been coming to the races for more than 10 years. Almost none of them ever heard the sound of the Rolls and Allisons when they weren't only in museum boats. But what they do seem to like is being entertained for the day. Whether it's an F-16 demo or a deck to deck heat 1-A. What they really seem to dislike is the down time when nothing is going on; or a heat that is a parade.

I think we're clutching at minutiae by selecting things like engine noise and asking for the corporate seating to be eliminated to save our sport. It's unfortunate that some hard-core fans feel that opening the sport to a wider audience means 'prostituting' the sport by introducing and encouraging combined forms of entertainment. Look at how the viewing experience has changed in the major sports of football and basketball -- music, dance squads, fan contests all go on between the action. Like it or not, it's what John Q. Public wants to see. We as hydro racing 'purists' probably recoil at the thought of more air shows or on-water demo's. But it will generate more fan dollars. And as they said in The Right Stuff: "No bucks; no Buck Rogers."

As a crew member of an unlimited light race team, I see a lot of positive things going on with our organization (ULHRA) as well as region 10, vintage and H1, however, can't we all just get along!  Too many people throughout all organizations want to do things for themselves rather that thinking about the big picture...the fans.  Not to say that there havn't been some great events and ideas, but as a fan myself...I want more:  nonstop information (magazines, web cast, good announcing, pit tours, promotion around town, and god forbid...articles in the newspaper), nonstop action (less downtime, multiple classes, multiple days), a well rounded experience (music in the park, kids activities, car shows, food).  Many have mentioned NASCAR, we they have provided a great template that we the racers need to follow.  We all need to remind the racers that it's fine and good to race, but racing for each other vs a shore full of fans are two completely different things.  Stop being greedy and trying to piss on the bushes to mark you terratory and think of how to put on the best weekend of entertainment for the fans.  A sport wont grow unless we figure out how to put "butts in the seats", especially when the economy is hurting.  A fan wants a destination for a day or two where he can bring his family and hang out...from 8-5 with so much to do that they leave with a feeling of excitement that it was a day well spent.  Currently a lot of race events have their high points as well as low points, but all have lots more that could happen.  So, my comment to all race teams, volunteers, owners, and board members need to quit complaining...stop for a moment to listen to yourself / each other and think "What can we collectively do to make our race (event) the best we can make it for the fans?!?!?  The future of racing will only improve if everyone stops thinking of themselves and sets goals for the future...and by all means is should promote FUN!

I think your comments are right on, Darren!  The unlimiteds and unlimited lights need to get together to put on the best shows ever.  The speed of the unlimiteds, the noise of the lights, and non-stop racing!!!

Darren Olson said:

As a crew member of an unlimited light race team, I see a lot of positive things going on with our organization (ULHRA) as well as region 10, vintage and H1, however, can't we all just get along!  Too many people throughout all organizations want to do things for themselves rather that thinking about the big picture...the fans.  Not to say that there havn't been some great events and ideas, but as a fan myself...I want more:  nonstop information (magazines, web cast, good announcing, pit tours, promotion around town, and god forbid...articles in the newspaper), nonstop action (less downtime, multiple classes, multiple days), a well rounded experience (music in the park, kids activities, car shows, food).  Many have mentioned NASCAR, we they have provided a great template that we the racers need to follow.  We all need to remind the racers that it's fine and good to race, but racing for each other vs a shore full of fans are two completely different things.  Stop being greedy and trying to piss on the bushes to mark you terratory and think of how to put on the best weekend of entertainment for the fans.  A sport wont grow unless we figure out how to put "butts in the seats", especially when the economy is hurting.  A fan wants a destination for a day or two where he can bring his family and hang out...from 8-5 with so much to do that they leave with a feeling of excitement that it was a day well spent.  Currently a lot of race events have their high points as well as low points, but all have lots more that could happen.  So, my comment to all race teams, volunteers, owners, and board members need to quit complaining...stop for a moment to listen to yourself / each other and think "What can we collectively do to make our race (event) the best we can make it for the fans?!?!?  The future of racing will only improve if everyone stops thinking of themselves and sets goals for the future...and by all means is should promote FUN!

Not to mention that there are some other classes that can also add to the show: 1 liters, 2.5 liters, 5 liters, jersey speed skiffs, vintage, sprint boats. If the body of water and pit space will allow...the better the show!

Tony, nice to see your name and thoughts.

Yours is a refreshing perspective re: embracing the air shows. I'm one of the whiners who yearns for the hydros to again be promoted as the top attraction in Seattle. But maybe there are economies of scale that can be tapped by joining forces with a series of air shows around the country? It need not be the Blue Angels; Tri-Cities puts on an entertaining event without them.

 

Here's my No. 1 rant, having to do strictly with Seafair. Several years ago, when I was involved with PEMCO Insurance's sponsorship of the PEMCO Classic vintage hydro heat at Seafair (1999-2002), I was told that "Seafair honors its past, but we build for the future." That was in the context of hydros getting diminished promotion compared with other elements like the air show, evening concerts, and a daytime fireworks display.


The key objective then (and likely now, although I haven't talked with a Seafair exec recently about its strategic direction) was to attract younger fans to build a base that's sustainable for the future. That's a prudent and necessary business objective. Yet I believe it's come at the expense of embracing the sport's vibrant history, which in and of itself could be a huge draw for a massive demographic segment: the Baby Boomers, those born between 1945-1964.

 

Strictly from a business perspective, Boomers represent a huge and profitable market segment. Look at the bell curve on Census graphs showing how many of them there are. These are people with discretionary income, not aging spinsters hiding their cash in mattresses. And Boomers are the segment that grew up in the age of true thunderboats. I believe that if Seafair embraced the vintage piston-powered hydros and actively promoted it as a major supporting event, Boomers would show up at Lake Washington with kids and grandkids in tow and spend their money, and more of them would tune in KIRO-TV and see sponsors' ads.

 

I've suggested this to many folks and usually hear, "Even if Seafair wanted to do that, it couldn't, because there's no room in the pits right now with the Unlimiteds and Lights." I think a creative solution could be found. My idea: Boost the nostalgia factor even more and put the vintage hydros at Mt. Baker beach, which was the early 1950s pit area. Extend the fenced-in spectator area to include Mt. Baker. That would create a north-end attraction and boost foot traffic between the two pit areas, making Lake Washington Boulevard a more-opportunisitic site for new vendors.

 

The response I usually hear is, "City regulations won't allow us to take over Mt. Baker beach." But has anyone seriously looked into it? If the folks with business acumen drew up a plan and projected a return on investment, perhaps City officials would be flexible and accommodating. There are influential friends of Seafair in the community and on its board.

 

There's potential for a Seafair exhibition vintage event absolutely dripping with nostalgic appeal. With today's robust vintage fleet, could you imagine the throaty roar of five or six hydros circling Lake Washington -- perhaps Thriftway, Wahoo, Budweiser, Burien, Bardahl? And an Atlas - Griffon Bud match race? Perhaps Hurricane IV in the mix? I believe Seafair and the City of Seattle have the creativity to make it happen, if they wanted to.

Tony Sepanski said:

I don't believe the solution is engine noise. If that was the case the Lights would be the popular draw, not the Unlimiteds. Piston power noise pretty much disappeared from the scene twenty years ago now. The only boat with piston noise was the Cooper's, and really, a turbo-Allison isn't much louder than the Lycomings at full speed. The days of Merlins and Griffon's are gone; there aren't enough of them in existence any more. Automotive? I find just as many people on the lake and river on race day who hate the sound of the Lights as those who love it.

My opinion is worth about what you'd think it is, but here are four ideas that may help:

- A strong governing body to run the circuit. With the owners self-administering the sport, it is literally the lunatics running the asylum. I know this was tried before with the Gobretch's, and was a failure. All sporting bodies that are successful, from NFL to NASCAR, are governed by one central power that all participants acquiese to. Watching the embarassment of Ed Cooper throwing his tantrum this year really drove home the futility of allowing each owner an equal share in the administration of the race circuit.

- Lower the costs! Yeah, this is really easy for me to say. But it's true; the cost of putting on an Unlimited race is out of reach for most municipalities/race organizations. I know they've cut the costs to the bone all ready, but clearly it's still too expensive for a site (particularly a new site that's trying to develop a following) to put on a race. Is one solution to combine the leagues with another boat racing class? I don't know, but it sure couldn't hurt to investigate it. Is there a way Unlimiteds could be governed by the same organization that runs offshore boats (for example)? Are there areas that combining administration and marketing would leverage some cost advantages?

- Encourage the air shows, and help the fans identify the commonalities between airplanes and hydroplanes. I think we're making a huge mistake complaining about the air shows that accompany the races. Fans understand what airplanes are, and how they work. They're comfortable with them. Hydroplanes are as unusual and exotic as a man from Mars. Combining the two are a natural, and a way to draw even more fans to the shores. Here in Seattle we experienced the result of the loss of the Blue Angels from race weekend about 15 years ago -- it was a disaster. A good half the crowd is there to see the air show. Don't fight it, embrace it! Extend the sponsorships to the air show performers. Cross marketing is a positive, and if planes in the air mean more fans on the shore (and more sponsorship recognition for the boats) that's what we're after!

- More history. Baseball is popular and special because, among other reasons, it draws from a 150 year history rich in tradition and legend. Unlimiteds draw from a 100+ year well of the same depth and breadth. Through the spectacular work of the Museum, we now have a living history for the sport to draw on. As with the air shows, embrace this part of the spectacle on race day. The Tri-Cities race does this to some extent, but it's missing completely from others.

I know some of these ideas fall outside the aegis of the H1 Unlimited governance and are part of the local organizing committees' control. But if H1 was able to bring a fully self-contained, full day of entertainment, centered around the Unlimiteds, but with other aspects of interest for fans, I think it may be welcomed.

But I also may just be pipe-dreaming. What do I know -- I've never put on a race!

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