We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley
H1 Unlimited Historian
Between 1975 and 2010, the father-and-son team of Art and Larry Oberto has sponsored a total of 11 Unlimited hydroplanes under the banner of Oh Boy! Oberto.
With the retirement of the Miss Budweiser team in 2004, the Oberto family's Seattle-based meat products business became the oldest active corporate sponsor in Unlimited racing.
As of 2009, the family had eight race victories to its credit. The first two were in 1988 when driver George Woods posted wins at Miami and San Diego. The rest were with pilot Steve David driving for Miss Madison Racing at Madison in 2001, at Evansville in 2005, at Seattle and San Diego in 2007, and at Tri-Cities, Wash., in 2008 and 2009.
The Obertos have long been involved in sports promotion. Their slogan "Oh Boy! Oberto" was popular in Seattle many years before it was ever applied to a race boat. In the 1950s, the company sponsored radio broadcasts of the old Seattle Rainiers Pacific Coast League baseball games.
It all started in 1918
In 1918, Italian immigrant Constantino Oberto - Art Oberto's father - opened a sausage factory in Seattle, making salami, coppacola and other sausages with family recipes he brought with him from Italy.
From there the Oberto Sausage Company has grown from three employees to more than 800.
The greatest expansion occurred after Art Oberto took over the tiny business in 1943 at the age of 16 when Constantino died unexpectedly.
Although assuming leadership of the company, Art continued going to school, determined to graduate from West Seattle High School.
Oberto Sausage, like many companies barely survived the meat shortage of World War II. Average annual sales growth over the decades has ranged from 10 percent to 15 percent in slow years, and 20 percent to 30 percent in better times.
In the 1960s, Oberto began making beef jerky, at the suggestion of Art Oberto's wife, Dorothy. The popular item soon became the company's main product line.
Jerky goes boat racing
The very first Oberto-sponsored hydroplane was Bob Murphy's veteran U-4. The hull, which was built in 1962 as the Notre Dame, made its debut as Oh Boy! Oberto at the 1975 Gold Cup in Tri-Cities, Wash., The U-4 finished seventh in a 15-boat field with Chuck Hickling at the wheel.
After sponsoring a number of "budget" teams for several years, the Obertos upped their ante in Unlimited racing in 1987 by joining forces with owner Jim Harvey to score their first two victories the following year. The wins came with boats powered by time-honored Rolls-Royce Merlin internal combustion engines at a time when most teams were already switching over to Lycoming turbine power.
Following a brief retirement from the sport, the Oberto family returned to the hydroplane wars during the West Coast swing of the 2000 season with their sponsorship of the community-owned Miss Madison, a hull that had been constructed in 1988.
Despite the age of the boat - and the fact that it was originally constructed for piston-power but later converted to a turbine - the Miss Madison won the 2001 Indiana Governor's Cup and the 2005 Thunder On The Ohio at Evansville while flying the Oberto's colors and Steve David captured the National High Point Unlimited Driver title in both 2005 and 2006.
Oberto goes prime cut
Subsequent to the 2006 campaign, the 1988 hull was finally declared obsolete and retired after 19 seasons of competition.
In the words of Larry Oberto, "We basically evaluated where the sport had gone and how the team had done. We felt confident in supplying them with new equipment. We wanted them to have a good race boat - one that gave the driver the confidence to go as fast as he can without worrying about the consequences."
A commitment to build a new boat was made in October 2006 and although the project was a frantic race against time to be ready for the start of the 2007 campaign in June, the team accomplished the task in time for the new boat to go racing at the season opener.
The new Oh Boy! Oberto weighed 600 pounds less than its predecessor and featured a state-of-the-art hull design. As the first new hydroplane in the Unlimited Class in five years, the boat arrived at the first race of 2007 in Evansville untested, having never been put in the water.
As the season progressed, the Oh Boy! Oberto crew, led by crew chief and co-designer Mike Hanson, fine-tuned the new craft and the boat and driver David began to make their presence felt out on the race course. The team scored back-to-back victories in the Chevrolet Cup at Seattle and the Bill Muncey Cup at San Diego and placed second in National High Points.
Seldom has a brand new Unlimited hydroplane made such a positive impression in its very first year of competition.
According to owner representative Bob Hughes of Madison, "None of this would have been possible without the support of our sponsor, the Oberto family of Seattle. If we had done nothing else in 2007, we wanted to win in Seattle. They have won other races. But this was their first hometown victory.
"The fact that our Chevrolet Cup win coincided with Art Oberto's 80th birthday made our victory extra special. I know it meant a great deal to Art," Hughes added.
"Judging by the numerous congratulations the team received in Seattle, it would appear the Oh Boy! Oberto is as popular in the Pacific Northwest as it is in Madison, Ind.," Hughes said. "Seattleites consider us to be a Seattle boat, while Madisonians consider us to be a Madison boat. And that's just fine with us."
Jerkey Boat wears the U-1
In 2008, the Obertos hit Big Casino. They won their first National High Point Team Championship. This entitled the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison (U-6) to carry the coveted U-1 designation during the 2009 racing season.
Driver Steve David achieved 100 percent reliability in 2008 by finishing every heat that he entered. The U-6 also qualified fastest at four of the six events.
The team won a second National Championship in 2009. Moreover, David piloted Oh Boy! Oberto to a repeat victory at the Tri-Cities and finished runner-up in the UIM World Championship Race in Doha, Qatar - despite flipping the boat in an earlier heat with the season points title still very much on the line.
David and the Oberto/Miss Madison secured the team's second straight championship by outrunning their closest rivals in the final heat of the season.
Over the years, some of racing's greatest teams - and their sponsors - have achieved the distinction of National High Point Champion. These include Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines, Pay 'n Pak, Miss Thriftway, and the Miss Bardahl. Oh Boy! Oberto has now earned its spot in that distinguished company.