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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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"Standardization" of components is a bit of a slippery slope. You may end up with the NASCARization of unlimited hydro racing, where the "show" is all for the "fans". You end up with "standard" bodywork and chassis painted up to look like a Ford Chev or Toyota. Who is fooled by this. And do you really want 6 boats or 30 identical cars droning around side by side or nose to tail until either someone wrecks or the checkered flag mercifully drops?


In any racing series, the teams will always spend all the money they have got. So if the props, skid fins and rudders are standardized, the better financed teams will invest in better aerodynamics or whatever avenue is left open to them to gain an advantage. They will spend more and more on less and less. In Formula 1 over the years, the rules have forced the teams to concentrate on rocket fuel in the turbo era, moveable skirts and active suspension during the tunnel era and horrible looking bodywork in the current aerodynamic era.


I think it is primarily a marketing issue, the boats and races still excite me. The sport needs a promoter who can get the races on national TV, and market it professionally. But please, the last thing we need is another top level "spec" series (in spite of what Chip Hanauer says). Unlimited should be unlimited. Formula 1 should be the best of the best. If you want to see spec racing go and watch some amateur outboard racing or club Formula Ford.

  I do not expect nor am I suggesting teams throw out there turbines and start over. The sport will need to have them for now. I have been a fan since. What I have noticed since the turbines took over, is the sport has become boring. When turbines started running is when the sport was no longer unlimited. The powers to be  and some owners made this their sport and dictated all changes to boat and courses to meet their needs. Boats are lighter so shorten the course, all teams are not financed the same, so try to slow the fast ones by adding air and fuel restrictions. Someone has a bigger motor so ban that one. Turbines cant handle 15 mile heats so screw the fans and have 6 mile heats. Some drivers can't figure out timing so get rid of the clock start. I know you want me to go on, and I could. It doesn't make any sense at all. Quit messing with the rules, and go back to 60 mile races and 15 mile heats, build the boats for the race course, and give us a show that we will talk about on Monday. Hell I still talk about Chip beating Dean to the finish line at the TC. Remember the Bud, Pak duals 73' 74' . We want a show!!

  Going back to piston will slow the boats, so they won't need limitations. The sport needs to go back to its roots in someways, while moving forward. I firmly believe that innovative people made the sport great, and given the chance they will make it great again. I love this sport but enough is enough. Standardizing some of the equipment like the bolt on stuff is good but let the gear heads alone. Maybe a team could get Chad Knaus to come over, he is an innovator.

John, I have to disagree about the show -- the racing the past two years is as close and exciting as I've experienced since the mid-1980's and the early 1970's (what I remember of them -- I was eight when the Bud - Pak duels were staged). I mentioned this way earlier in this thread, but if you ask around on the shore (which I've done a little bit -- so it's completely non-scientific polling), but they hate the sound of the automotive boats. It's piercing and grating, compared to the V-12's. I'm not saying we should go back to the V-12's...well, I am, but I also know full well that's unrealistic; those days are gone. If it was all about noise, the GP's / Light's / 7-litres or whatever they are called would be king. Instead, the people leave the shore to go get a burger or a beer when their racing and show up for the Unlimited heats.

What they DO like is deck to deck. Listent to the crowd in TC and Seattle when they Oberto and Qatar are hooking up in a duel. Or even when the top 2nd-tier boats like Porter's fleet get into a fight. The fans love it and it shows in the cheering.

I'm not saying everything is rosy, by any stretch. But the only way out of this hole is more boats, more sponsors and more visability -- which I think EVERYONE here can agree on!



As a veteran of Open Wheel Racing, I disagree that the sound of an properly set automotive powered boat would be annoying. Just go to a dirt track Sprint Car race and watch the crowd, they don't seem to be upset. Now, I do agree that some muffling of the higher frequencies might be in order, the sound of un-muffled "valve" snap of a high revving engine will bounce right across the water to the spectators, almost all Sprint Car Racing requires some kind of mufflers. A very simple pass through muffler will attenuate the higher frequencies,  emphasize the lower frequencies of the power-plant (s) and will not affect the engine performance. Two big block V8s, or three or four small blocks will sound different, but will still sound great. I had a computer simulation done of three 410 cubic inch small block Sprint Car Engines, combined and synchronized at each 120 degrees out of phase, it sounds great, a bit reminiscent of a V-12. This is not impossible. 


As for spec power-plants, let us hold that with the turbines. Three bored out Sprint Car like small blocks will put out over 2700 HP, and still live for most of a racing season, let us let the innovators figure this out. Big blocks can easily be built to over 700 cubic inches, two of the them would also do the job. Remember these parts are available from multiple sources with a phone call, not having to be found in someones stash of 70 year old parts.

There is a future of piston powered unlimited, just takes someone to try it.


Jim is right on, his point proven with the twin automotive ULIMITEDS of the past. They sounded great and went fast, just not as fast as a turbine or a Rollsroyce V12, they also had problems with reliability in a 15 mile heat. With the tech age this can be overcome. If you could bring back the Pak, Stros Light, and Lincoln Thrift twin automotives with today's technology and computers run them against each other you would have a hell of a race and real competition, not competition created by limitation and rule changes.

Unlimited racing has been a little better the last couple of years, but only due limitations trying to make them equal, that is not unlimited racing, at best it is synthetic racing. 

Bring back the longer straightaways that would allow for passing other boats, for gods sake lets race not pretend to race. It is all there just need someone with some money to do it. 

Want money for boats? Ford,GM, and Chrysler pump millions into other motor sports and reap the rewards off the innovations that come from racing.  Sponsors will come when the boats start using automotive parts. Jim is right, the parts are available off the shelf, and great Tuners are ready to ply their trade. I also suggest if H1 is not interested in piston power that a separate sanctioning body could be formed. No fear, no limits, just unlimited.

If you haven't noticed I am very passionate about this sport. O yeah, bring back Green lake!!!!!!!!

I agree with John,If the possibility of obtaining or manufacturing Rolls Royce Merlins is not obtainable due to the great costs involved,let's go with automotive powerplants.Back in the day there were a few successful boats with car engines.

With aftermarket powerplants like used in drag racing and other motorsports.These are all new and not somthing re-machined old engines out of an old Cadillac or other vehicles.They have better metallurgy now and are balanced

and would be more adaptable to hydroplane racing. Imagine the Indy 500 or Daytona class race cars if they had electric powerplants.The roar of the engines is part of the inigma that draws fans to the races.I first heard the roar of the unlimiteds when I was 5 years old.It still sticks in my mind.

As far as the Seafair races.Bring back the flying start.These slow starts are boring.Change the course back to a 3 mile.

Make the heat races back to 5 laps.Make the championship heat 7 laps.In between heats have limited races.

Bring in the Grand Prix class hydroplanes,the old 7-Litre.Make the Seafair boat race weekend all about boat racing.

Not some hydrolite wake board exposition.That did not belong at the Seafair boat races.

And in conclusion.Reduce the amount of  prime shore space that the elite sponsors take up.

Although the money that they bring in is important,they restrict the shore area for the everyday fan has to view.

The fans will make or break the sport in the end.Not corporate sponsorships.

Green Lake.I used to go there every year.It was a great venue for limited and outboard racing.Until a few old crones complained about the noise and traffic.It happens once a year.For a couple a days.Thank the City of Seattle for listening to the wants of a few when a majority of the city would welcome the races back to Green Lake.

In our poor economic times it would also create some additional revenue for the local merchants and also for the City of Seattle.Bring back the good things that hydroplane racing gave to this area.

Forever Hydroplane and boat racing fan

Mark Baldwin

I'm excited that five different people have joined the discussion in the last 24 hours!  It proves that there IS a loyal fan base who care about the future of the sport.  That's why I started this discussion two years ago.  I think we all agree that the sport needs to grow. The big question is how do you get there. It's like the old question, which comes first, the chicken or the egg--just substitiute the fans or the sponsors or the boats, (I guess that's two eggs).

I agree with Mark that the fans will make or break the sport, not corporate sponsors.  But I think the key to attracting more fans, and thus more corporate sponsor involvement, is improving the race program.  Detroit again this year has no title sponsor, and I hear Madison has the same problem.  I don't know about San Diego or Seattle, maybe some of you do.  Doesn't that point to the conclusion that many potential sponsors no longer think that sponsoring a hydroplane race is a good marketing value.  Even the few boats still competing are having trouble retaining sponsors from year to year. 


And I agree with Terry that marketing is the key to increasing the fan base.  How much money does H1 put into the local marketing of each event?  I suspect little or nothing.  And how many race sites have come and gone because those events were poorly promoted and thus had small audiences?  Evansville is the most recent casualty, but who remembers Las Vegas, Kansas City, Nashville, Milwaukee, Kelowna, BC, Senaca Lake, NY, Lewisville Lake, Texas, Houston, Texas?

Get the picture?  I attended the race in Nashville a few years ago, and the people at the hotel where we stayed didn't know anything about the race, (where or when, etc.) even though we were just a few miles away)!

And I agree with Tony, also.  I just think he has it backwards.  First it's more fans, which brings more sponsors, which brings more money and more visibility and more race sites.

With the very low cost of natural gas there is going to be a impetus toward LNG powered vehicles. While diesels can be somewhat adapted, in some cases it makes sense to use "gas" engines instead. Due to this there may be some rather large "gas" truck engines on the horizon, guess about what size they would need to be?, some may be adapted to ---yes-- unlimited hydroplanes. I personally know of one large engine in early development at this time.  Cross our fingers and hope, perhaps these companies might be possible sponsors for the future.

As for people not knowing about a race nearby, if the boats were piston powered, everyone in the area would know.

From a presentation perspective, the racers are there for the audience. Having attended both national and local Race Promoters Meetings, I can say that the events have to be run efficiently with little or no delays between races, thanks to Television, today's crowds are impatient. While this format might be different than what's been done before, this is what it takes to be successful.


James makes an interesting point about using or adapting large truck engines. I had thought of this many times in connection with diesel engines, especially the Detroit Diesel 12V71 which was a V12 and sounded wonderful in a truck. I did however think they might be too heavy for their power output to be worthwhile.

I think there is great potential in using a modern compressed natural gas or liquid natural gas heavy duty engine as long as it is relatively light, that is, it should have an aluminum block and heads. The cost of these engines would be reasonable (all things are relative) and the potential for sponsorship from the engine or fuel system manufacturer. The boats are big enough that CNG or LNG tanks could be accommodated.

So since H1 is the current series promoter, has anyone approached them with this idea? How close to being "ready to run" are any of the current natural gas or diesel engines for racing use (weight and power compared to R-R Merlins, gearbox ratios, etc.)? Are any of the teams interested in pursuing this idea?

With the push toward efficiency, these engine will most certainly be light, likely aluminum, weight costs fuel. With this in mind, ultimate power to weight ratio will be quite consistent with the old aircraft engines. No, I doubt they will be ready to run in a hydroplane, but will be adaptable. I also imagine the boats will run either AV gas or ethanol. Ethanol is reasonably priced right now, has more power than Methanol and is far less corrosive. Hey a "green" boat.

I hate the airshows, every time a jet rips over my head while I'm working at a race it pisses me off, I'll watch B-24's and Spitfires any time, jets are just noise pollution  to me. And Idon't think the average fan knows anything about F/A -18's or F-22's.

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!

 I actually liked it better when we only raced on Sunday. Every extra day that the course is open increases the cost of running the race a ton. As far as speeding up the program, the two hour wait until the final is stupid, unless of course you broke something in the last prelim you ran, then you are thrashing to make the final. The time between prelim heats is pretty tight for us now especially if you run in say 1B and have to run again in 2A.

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