We're racing through history!
By Aaron Lynch
Reprinted from h1unlimited.com
The City of Madison’s ownership of a hydroplane is like none other in racing. As a result of the community ownership, their fans are like none other.
This unique ownership draws not only those who enjoy the spectacle of hydroplane racing but also is a source of civic pride for the residents of the Madison area. In its 54 years on the Unlimited hydroplane circuit, the Miss Madison has had many highs and lows but through it all there have been one of the most recognizable symbols of Madison, Indiana.
The Miss Madison had its beginnings when Samuel DuPont donated his hydroplane, known as Nitrogen, to the City of Madison in 1961. Although those early years had little success, the Miss Madison already had earned its spot as one of the best ambassadors for its home port.
In 1965, David Sloan had graduated from the Indiana University School of Optometry and was looking for a place to open his practice. While visiting Madison, a friend of Sloan and local banker Ed Baer was showing him around town when Baer asked “would you like to see the Miss Madison?”
Unsure of what the Miss Madison was, Sloan was surprised to be taken to see a race boat. For David Sloan, it was love at first sight. He became a lifelong fan, often flying to other race sites on the tour to cheer on the Miss Madison. He also worked for many years as the Chairman of the Madison Regatta Parade. Sloan was a fixture on RV row during Madison Regatta week until he passed away in 2013.
Anywhere one looks in Madison one can find the pride the city takes in its boat. When a visitor comes to Madison, the first thing he or she will see is a sign that proclaims Madison as the “Home of Oh Boy Oberto/Miss Madison, National Champions 2008-2009-2010-2012.” A plaque along the riverfront proclaims the Miss Madison as the “World’s only community owned hydroplane and 1971 Gold Cup Winner.” Numerous souvenir shops in Madison will have Miss Madison memorabilia from throughout the years. The Boneyard, a local restaurant owned by newly minted Miss Madison President Charlie Grooms, has many hydroplane pictures as well as a full sponson deck of a former Miss Madison hull. One does not need to look hard to see that the Miss Madison is woven into the fabric of the town it represents.
Just as the Miss Madison is a part of the identity of the town, the fans of the Miss Madison take a lot of civic pride in their boat. Dan Gayle is a Madison native and a lifelong fan. He is also the son of the late Randy Gayle, who was a longtime crew member of the Miss Madison. Dan calls the fact that the whole city of Madison owns the boat a point of pride: “When the Miss Madison races in other cities, they represent the whole town, not just the team. They’re like the Green Bay Packers. There’s a deep bond with the boat.” Gayle continues: “We’re a small town, so having a professional sports team is awesome. I’m a Colts fan and an Indiana Hoosiers fan, but I’m not from Indianapolis. I’m not from Bloomington. Madison is my home, and the Miss Madison is my hometown team.”
Brent Warren, another lifelong Miss Madison fan, takes a more global view: “All of Italy feels the passion with Ferrari. We here in Madison feel an immense pride with our boat when it wins. We all chipped into that victory. And when the Miss Madison does it at home, it’s like Ferrari winning at Monza.”
Madison fans are often eager to share the passion for their boat, even after leaving the area. Chris Taylor is a Madison native who now lives in the San Diego area. Hey shared a story in which a man from Texas was attending the San Diego race. Taylor shared the history of the Miss Madison with the man, and the Miss Madison immediately gained a new fan.
Over the years, the Miss Madison has gone from a small-time operation trying to make simply a respectable showing to the ruling dynasty of the sport. Inevitably the Madison fans have made a lot of cherished memories over that time.
The 1971 Gold Cup win brought instant outbursts of joy on both sides of the river, from church bells and being rung in downtown Madison to a party in Milton in which the attendees jumped into the pool fully clothed in celebration of the Miss Madison’s triumph.
In later years, fans had also seen the similar joy when the Madison team scored an upset victory in 2001 on home water. Multiple people recalled that so many crew members, members of the media, and others had made it down to greet Steve David after his triumph that the deck began to sink. For most fans, however, the greatest memory has been the Miss Madison’s current run of five championships over seven years. The 2008 victory was seen as the culmination of nearly a half century of hard work and struggles that had finally paid off. Each successive championship is seen as just that much more vindication that the Miss Madison had really “made it” as the top team in hydroplane racing.
The City of Madison has now raced its hometown boat for 55 consecutive years on the Unlimited circuit. Like professional teams in large markets, the Miss Madison has provided a roller coaster of emotions. there have been heartbreaks and the thrill of victory.
From the high points championships to the Gold Cup victories and even with the low points that happen in sports, the fans are arguably the most dedicated and passionate fans in all of powerboat racing.
This unique ownership and arrangement with the City of Madison has given this quaint southern Indiana town a reason to come together with a rooting interest for a sports team that they not only support but they own.
It is truly one of America’s great sports stories.