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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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Tim,
Thanks for your thoughts, and I agree with most of what you have said.

Regarding TV, yes I know there isn't any except the Seattle race, and I'm old enough to remember when in was carried live on three of the Seattle stations, I used to flip between them to get the best camera positions. So the issue is one of promotion by both the race organizers and the local stations. If you can get the local stations covering the event for a few years, then it is time to approach the networks. How to do this? I think there has to be more on course action. Most auto races (well at least the road races that I watch and attend) have supporting races with different classes to fill the day and I think most fans appreciate these supporting races even though they come for the BIG one. So while I think Unlimited Lights serves this purpose, the fact is there should be almost continuous action on race day. So I think additional classes are needed, yes, even offshore race boats running the closed course and maybe some smaller than Unlimited Lights hydros. These could run on a smaller course inside the main course but still using the front straightaway.

The need for continuous action has resulted in the Seafair air show, which to my way of thinking overshadows the racing. In Seattle, it really has become an all day airshow with a few hydro races thrown in. I heard one of the reasons the vintage hydros were not allowed to run was they didn't have any more time slots available because of the airshow. So my suggestion is a number of classes of boats racing all day, and perhaps in Seattle, the Blue Angels during the lunch break. It would take a few events to whittle the airshow down to this.

Tony, I'm sorrry I have to disagree with you about mixing hydro racing and airshows. I can't think of any other racing event that believes it is necessary to have an airshow to fill in the gaps in the racing.

Tim, the fundamental fact about any kind of racing, cars, boats or planes, amateur or professional, is that the participants will spend all the money they have. An amateur auto racer may spend $1000/year for tires, parts, and fuel and some of this may come out of the food money. His reward is a trophy if he is lucky. A major professional auto race team may spend tens of millions of dollars/year, but this comes from prize money and sponsorship (ie. high speed advertising). So during the period when Bernie Little was racing for Budwieser, he spent all the money he had, which just turned out to be more than everybody else. I don't think he damaged the sport by doing so as much as he challenged his competitors to beat him. And few competitors were able to secure the funds, buy/build the equipment and the team to do so. At any point in the history of any racing series, one team is going to be dominant, and I think this is a good thing. The fans should love a winner, but still cheer for the competition because without it the winner's achievement is a hollow victory.

Ultimately all the money comes from the fans, whether it is directly from gate receipts, or indirectly through sponsorship marketing/advertising. You have posed some good questions and I agree with most of the a) responses.

To summarize: unlimited hydro racing would become more popular by providing multiple boat classes for an action packed day long event with the unlimiteds the main attraction, and, from my previous post (and I'd like some discussion on this), changing the course by making one or both turns much tighter to allow a better chance of overtaking.
Tim and all -

I realize that you don't have access to meetings like the one that took place yesterday in Seatte, attended by all race sites, H1, and some owners. It was one of several such meetings held every year to cover multiple topics, including most of the areas you are discussing here.

If you could spend an hour in one of these meetings, you would laugh at the idea that H1 and the race sites are "in denial" or "not listening to the fans" or in any way unaware of the challenges facing the sport.

The most creative ideas sometimes have to be tempered with a dose of practicality and reality. Things like the "spec" series that our friend Chip and one poster here champion would reduce the fleet from the 14 boats that ran in 2010 to about 3 or 4 teams immediately. The cost of a program like that is overwhelming, and has other major drawbacks as well.

There is as much parity in the current engines as engineering can produce. If you put the engines from the fastest boats in the slower boats, and vice versa....they would not trade places on the qualifying ladder. Standardizing a critical element like propellers is more practical.

If more noise were the solution, the UL's and GP's would be outdrawing the Unlimiteds. Quite the opposite is true. And the rate of attrition they are experiencing would really give you something to complain about if it happened in H1. There are other good reasons why making a lot of noise in 2010 is not a great idea. There are drag strips where the cars are now required to run mufflers. Neighborhoods like the one around Lake Washington in Seattle probably would not tolerate the kind of noise that people want to "bring back."

Beyond that, there is no practical piston engine that will power an Unlimited anywhere near the speeds we see now. Welding two or three V-8's together and getting them to run is a lot easier to suggest than to do. If Fred Leland's current attempt to do that surprises and works, it will be a ground breaking advancement.

So make the boats a little smaller? You'd have the Grand Prix class - 24-26 feet. Speaking of the Grand Prix's, they are trying to solve the problem of the piston engine experiencing an uneven load on the water, which it doesn't do on land. If they can solve that issue, that would be big step for piston power fans.

As far as the spectators in the corporate areas having some of the best seats, welcome to the new millenium. The funding for motorsports as well as stick and ball sports in this age is all about corporate involvement. The companies with their logos on those hospitality tents are the reason we still have a sport. As fond as our memories of 1955 are, we can't bring back that time in the sport or the economy. And I have to disagree about the quality of viewing areas for the general public. I have walked the beach at races from Seattle to Doha and I have seen spectacular vantage points accessible to those with the cheapest tickets. That is probably truer in our sport than any other. Compare the cheapest ticket at a NASCAR race or NFL game to the seat you get on Fiesta Island in San Diego or the beach in the Tri-Cities for the lowest number on the ticket price list.

Finally Tim - you remind me of a young man in the Tri-Cities who was very critical of the sport and that event in one of the forums a few years back. Someone suggested he do something more than complain, so he did. He is now on the Board of Directors of that event and views things from quite a different perspective.

You would have the the same opportunity in Detroit, where the call for volunteers goes out annually. With a little closer view of the sport and one of our biggest events you would find that things are done the way they are for very good reasons, including economics, logistics, politics, etc.

This is not to say things can't change. Possible changes are discussed constantly. The opinions of owners, drivers, officials and FANS, yes FANS are all a part of the decision making process. The fact that officials don't respond to every opinion put forward doesn't mean they aren't listening.

Steve Montgomery
The racing is too short. Thank goodness the boats leave the docks early. I think that five lap prelims and a seven lap final would give the fans more action. I know that milling has presented problems in the past but I think it adds excitement to each race. Assigned lanes gives particular boats an unfair advantage. Yes the thunder was wonderful but I don't know of a current piston engine that is sustainable that has the required power. Allowing for weight adjustments so that a set power to weight ratio would have to be implemented. I would not want to see the current size (length and beam) modified. Modern construction techniques and materials can make drastic weight differences. Fan attendence seems to be greater at sites if the race is integrated properly into a cities celebration. One of the other ingedients that was present in the 50's and 60's is the regional pride in the hometown boat that brought fans out to root for the hometown boat. Hard to replace that.
Steve,
Thanks for taking the time to join in the discussion. I'm sorry you view my comments and suggestions as complaining. I thought, maybe mistakenly, that you and other members of H1 might be interested in the ideas of your fans. Unfortunately, I'm not a "young man" like the fellow from Tri-Cities you mentioned, but I've been a fan of unlimited racing all of my life, (I'm 65), probably longer than even you. And although I'm not a member of the DRRA, I think I've supported our sport more than most since I've attended every race in Detroit since the 1950's, buying tickets since I was old enough, in recent years at $125.00 each at the Gar Wood Judges Stand. I've also attended races in Madison, Evansville, Seattle, San Diego, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Syracuse, Nashville, and Barrie. So I think I have some basis for the comments and suggestions I've made. And as I said earlier, I would love to see the sport grow and prosper, but I don't think that will ever happen if the people who make the rules are unwilling to make changes geared toward improving the sport for the fans. Neither do I think it promotes open discussion when people in your position react negatively to everything suggested, implying that all these are "already tried" ideas, and none of us "on the outside" have any idea of what it takes to put on a boat race. Maybe you don't think it matters whether the fans are happy with the "product". I wonder how many businesses, including sports teams, have gone out of business because of that attitude.

Steve Montgomery said:
Tim and all -

I realize that you don't have access to meetings like the one that took place yesterday in Seatte, attended by all race sites, H1, and some owners. It was one of several such meetings held every year to cover multiple topics, including most of the areas you are discussing here.

If you could spend an hour in one of these meetings, you would laugh at the idea that H1 and the race sites are "in denial" or "not listening to the fans" or in any way unaware of the challenges facing the sport.

The most creative ideas sometimes have to be tempered with a dose of practicality and reality. Things like the "spec" series that our friend Chip and one poster here champion would reduce the fleet from the 14 boats that ran in 2010 to about 3 or 4 teams immediately. The cost of a program like that is overwhelming, and has other major drawbacks as well.

There is as much parity in the current engines as engineering can produce. If you put the engines from the fastest boats in the slower boats, and vice versa....they would not trade places on the qualifying ladder. Standardizing a critical element like propellers is more practical.

If more noise were the solution, the UL's and GP's would be outdrawing the Unlimiteds. Quite the opposite is true. And the rate of attrition they are experiencing would really give you something to complain about if it happened in H1. There are other good reasons why making a lot of noise in 2010 is not a great idea. There are drag strips where the cars are now required to run mufflers. Neighborhoods like the one around Lake Washington in Seattle probably would not tolerate the kind of noise that people want to "bring back."

Beyond that, there is no practical piston engine that will power an Unlimited anywhere near the speeds we see now. Welding two or three V-8's together and getting them to run is a lot easier to suggest than to do. If Fred Leland's current attempt to do that surprises and works, it will be a ground breaking advancement.

So make the boats a little smaller? You'd have the Grand Prix class - 24-26 feet. Speaking of the Grand Prix's, they are trying to solve the problem of the piston engine experiencing an uneven load on the water, which it doesn't do on land. If they can solve that issue, that would be big step for piston power fans.

As far as the spectators in the corporate areas having some of the best seats, welcome to the new millenium. The funding for motorsports as well as stick and ball sports in this age is all about corporate involvement. The companies with their logos on those hospitality tents are the reason we still have a sport. As fond as our memories of 1955 are, we can't bring back that time in the sport or the economy. And I have to disagree about the quality of viewing areas for the general public. I have walked the beach at races from Seattle to Doha and I have seen spectacular vantage points accessible to those with the cheapest tickets. That is probably truer in our sport than any other. Compare the cheapest ticket at a NASCAR race or NFL game to the seat you get on Fiesta Island in San Diego or the beach in the Tri-Cities for the lowest number on the ticket price list.

Finally Tim - you remind me of a young man in the Tri-Cities who was very critical of the sport and that event in one of the forums a few years back. Someone suggested he do something more than complain, so he did. He is now on the Board of Directors of that event and views things from quite a different perspective.

You would have the the same opportunity in Detroit, where the call for volunteers goes out annually. With a little closer view of the sport and one of our biggest events you would find that things are done the way they are for very good reasons, including economics, logistics, politics, etc.

This is not to say things can't change. Possible changes are discussed constantly. The opinions of owners, drivers, officials and FANS, yes FANS are all a part of the decision making process. The fact that officials don't respond to every opinion put forward doesn't mean they aren't listening.

Steve Montgomery
Okay, I'll chime in again (thereby easing the pressure Tim seems to feel for monopolizing this discussion - he isn't, by the way)

Taking a step back for a moment in review of all that has been suggested I can't help but get the feeling that most ideas seem more attuned to keeping the current fan base and improving the current format. That's not to say these suggestions are not valid. Indeed there are some really good ones that I feel ought to be considered.

I must admit I thought we might get some really helpful stuff when I saw that Steve Montgomery had joined the discussion. While I enjoyed what he had to say, much of it was like some of the other responses in that he seemed to explain why some of the ideas presented won't work and went on to say - or at least imply - that H1 seems to be aware of the issues, but I was hoping we'd get more insight into what the board is discussing. Steve is a smart and knowledgeable fellow and a good spokesman for Unlimited racing, but, c'mon, I want to know what's going on with the people who manage our sport. I want to be the proverbial "Fly on the wall" in H1 board meetings.

I think Terry Edwards succinctly made the point when he addressed "Marketing". I agree and I'll bet H1 realizes it as well. Although our sport appears to be in decline, it's apparent to me that the fan base it currently enjoys will continue to follow the sport with the same level of enthusiasm they have always had. Which is good. Oh, by the way, Terry, your comment about the wonderful Can Am series was appropriate, and almost brought tears to my eyes thinking back to the races I was able to attend. Don't forget, the series was dominated nearly every year of its brief existence by two teams - McLaren and Porsche. The early years were as fantastic as you suggest, but in less that 10 years the series died largely due to lack of competition. Granted, it was resurrected is a sort of spec-car format, but lasted only a very short time.

Somehow the fans we need to attract to grow are those who presently know little or nothing about the sport. Better TV coverage would help, but it's got to presented in a manner better than the recent abbreviated delayed telecast of the San Diego race. I don't know how you do that without first getting commercial advertisers to buy air time...

The race in Qatar is sort of intriguing and may be the key to growing the sport. I understand the prize money for some teams at this one race can exceed the sum total purse of every other race in the series. Talk of a race in Brazil or China (I am not privy to anything but rumors) might be just what the sport needs to grow. How does everyone feel about the sport becoming international? I worry that to some it's like when the Dodgers moved to LA.

No solutions offered (again), but I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we as fans, are not thinking far enough out of the box and I'm wondering how many of us will be happy with the solution, whatever it turns out to be.

But this is a forum, right? I applaud Tim Matyn for posing the question and the responses certainly have generated a lot of discussion. I'm really enjoying the dialogue.

Next month maybe we address the burning question about whether it's warmer in the Summer or in the mountains.

Kidding, just kidding...
Tim -
I'm not questioning your credentials as an observer. I guess I don't know what you want to hear. I explained why more noise and kicking the corporate tents out of the way are not things that are likely to happen soon and spec piston engines are not economically viable. I said the subject of compacting the race format is being discussed. I tried to respond to the areas in your discussion with a look from my point of view.

Sorry if I gave the wrong answer. Steve

BTW - You are not older than I am. Few people are any more.
Steve,
All I want to hear, and I think I can include Philip Lampman and many other fans, is that you are discussing ways to improve the races, and will take ALL ideas into consideration. I reread your last post, but I saw nothing about compacting the race program. But if you say it's being discussed, I say "hooray." And I, for one, do not advocate returning to automotive or piston power. I understand that with the investment all of the teams have made in turbine equipment, that is not practical if even feasible. But I do think a greater effort should be made to make the smaller Lights or Grand Prixs part of the program. And I wonder, is it even being considered? As a fan of the unlimiteds, to me the smaller boats are much less exciting, but they are certainly more interesting than watching the same jet planes fly by, over and over and over! And I don't begrudge corporate sponsors for wanting prime seating; at most race sites, including Detroit, there's more than enough room for everybody. And finally, I would like to hear, again as I think many others would, that changes are being discussed to improve the competition. You mentioned in your post that standardizing propellers would be more practical than engines, hulls, etc. I think it's a great idea; why not try it for at least one race. But, is it even being discussed?
I think all fans would like you to be a little more forthcoming about these issues, what is being considered, and what you all agree needs to be addressed. And certainly promotion is one of those items. In Detroit, there was so little promotion last year that many of my friends were surprised when I told them I was going. The tipical reaction was, "Oh, I thought there wasn't going to be any race this year!" In Nashville a few years back, the people at the hotel where we stayed, 20 minutes away from the park, didn't even know there was a boat race going on! Surely you must realize there is a definite need for improvement there. Tell people what's happening "behind the scenes" and all of your fans will be happier.
P.S. Glad to know we are the same "vintage"!

Steve Montgomery said:
Tim -
I'm not questioning your credentials as an observer. I guess I don't know what you want to hear. I explained why more noise and kicking the corporate tents out of the way are not things that are likely to happen soon and spec piston engines are not economically viable. I said the subject of compacting the race format is being discussed. I tried to respond to the areas in your discussion with a look from my point of view.

Sorry if I gave the wrong answer. Steve

BTW - You are not older than I am. Few people are any more.
All I want to hear, and I think I can include Philip Lampman and many other fans, is that you are discussing ways to improve the races,

Constantly

and will take ALL ideas into consideration. I reread your last post, but I saw nothing about compacting the race program. But if you say it's being discussed, I say "hooray."

I apologize. I thought I mentioned that it was topic in the meeting I mentioned. The breaks between heats go back to the piston era, when teams needed them. The race sites filled in with other stuff, which became embedded in their events. H1 would like to see more racing in a smaller window and they are discussing that with the race sites

But I do think a greater effort should be made to make the smaller Lights or Grand Prixs part of the program. And I wonder, is it even being considered?

Discussed at the same meeting. The race sites are talking to the UL's and GP's.

In Detroit, there was so little promotion last year that many of my friends were surprised when I told them I was going. The tipical reaction was, "Oh, I thought there wasn't going to be any race this year!" In Nashville a few years back, the people at the hotel where we stayed, 20 minutes away from the park, didn't even know there was a boat race going on! Surely you must realize there is a definite need for improvement there.

Understand that issues like the weekend schedule, ticket prices, local promotion of the event, etc are not controlled by H1. H1 just brings the big boats and runs the part of the weekend where they are on the water. The local race committee sets the schedule for qualifying, testing and racing to meet the needs of their event and community. H1 can give them input, but they set the schedule. So let your local race committee know how you feel about the schedule, air shows, etc.


Sorry for being rather brief. Happy to answer your questions but we are very busy getting things wrapped up before we leave for Qatar.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and the H1 website, including live streaming of the event in HD. By the way, these are all areas where we made big gains in 2010. Anyone notice?

Steve
Steve,
Thanks for your informative response to my last post. I think everyone who reads your reply will be happy to hear what's being discussed and considered.
I will definitely contact the DRRA and convey my ideas, and those of others posted here regarding the race schedules, events, etc.
And I do appreciate your work and that of all involved to put the races on the internet! It is great to be able to watch the races I can't attend in person. "One small set for boat racing and one giant step for boat racing fans!"
One final suggestion: Why don't you do a bi-weekly column on the web telling everyone "what's happening". I think fans would love it. Good luck with the race in Qatar!
Tim
P.S. Hope to watch the race in Qatar -- if I can get up that early!

Steve Montgomery said:
All I want to hear, and I think I can include Philip Lampman and many other fans, is that you are discussing ways to improve the races,

Constantly

and will take ALL ideas into consideration. I reread your last post, but I saw nothing about compacting the race program. But if you say it's being discussed, I say "hooray."

I apologize. I thought I mentioned that it was topic in the meeting I mentioned. The breaks between heats go back to the piston era, when teams needed them. The race sites filled in with other stuff, which became embedded in their events. H1 would like to see more racing in a smaller window and they are discussing that with the race sites

But I do think a greater effort should be made to make the smaller Lights or Grand Prixs part of the program. And I wonder, is it even being considered?

Discussed at the same meeting. The race sites are talking to the UL's and GP's.

In Detroit, there was so little promotion last year that many of my friends were surprised when I told them I was going. The tipical reaction was, "Oh, I thought there wasn't going to be any race this year!" In Nashville a few years back, the people at the hotel where we stayed, 20 minutes away from the park, didn't even know there was a boat race going on! Surely you must realize there is a definite need for improvement there.

Understand that issues like the weekend schedule, ticket prices, local promotion of the event, etc are not controlled by H1. H1 just brings the big boats and runs the part of the weekend where they are on the water. The local race committee sets the schedule for qualifying, testing and racing to meet the needs of their event and community. H1 can give them input, but they set the schedule. So let your local race committee know how you feel about the schedule, air shows, etc.


Sorry for being rather brief. Happy to answer your questions but we are very busy getting things wrapped up before we leave for Qatar.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and the H1 website, including live streaming of the event in HD. By the way, these are all areas where we made big gains in 2010. Anyone notice?

Steve
The sport needs to bring piston power back. This is a pie in the sky idea, but hang with me! What is needed is a new 12 cylinder block roughly based on the Rolls Royce Griffon. with all of the internals as well. This is 2010...I imagine with technology, this engine would be faster and more reliable. Find a company that willing and able to do this. The APBA could buy these engines wholesale and could provide engines to the teams at wholesale. Every team would be able to have the same engine, but can customize as needed. In the Puget Sound, you have a lot of retired aero space engineers that may want to get involved. The initial cost to cast and produce these parts would be expensive, but the idea itself may generate enough excitement, companies may donate time and resources to help.
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.
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?

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