Live TV coverage of Seattle race may end after 66 years.
There is a very strong chance that for the first time in the 66-year history of hydroplane racing in Seattle, this summer’s race will likely not be broadcast live to viewers in the Pacific Northwest.
Greg Bilte, general manager of KIRO-TV, said his station has yet to sign a contract with Seafair, but unless something unforeseen happens, they will plan to instead offer a 90-minute special about the race that will be broadcasted the evening of the event.
The problem, according to KIRO, is ratings. The average rating for the live coverage was 2.3 percent of the 1.8 million adults in Western Washington who are between the ages of 25 and 54, the audience most coveted by the station’s advertisers. Doing the math, that’s only 41,400 people.
According to Bilte, the 90-minute special during prime time, which would pre-empt the highly rated 60 Minutes, would give the hydroplanes a better showcase. Based on figures for the past three years, he estimates that the early evening time slot would draw about 70 percent more viewers from that important 25-54 age group than the live broadcast in the afternoon.
There are plans to live stream the Albert Lee Appliance Cup event on the KIRO website. More details are expected to be announced relating to the streaming coverage.
Stepping into the way-back machine.
Two years earlier, a group of Detroit business people had formed an association that sent a boat named Miss Detroit to Manhasset Bay, New York, where it won the 1915 Gold Cup. That meant the 1916 race was held on the Detroit River, the first in a tradition of races in the Motor City that continues to this day.
Unfortunately for the Detroit race fans, their first experience hosting the prestigious race ended with the Miss Minneapolis winning the trophy, which meant that the 1917 race would be held on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. In addition, when that first Detroit race ended, the millionaire Gar Wood came upon the scene to purchase the Miss Detroit and, in the process, strike a partnership agreement with the boat’s builder, Chris Smith.
100 YEARS AGO
The 1917 Season:
America was at war when the hydroplanes raced in 1917. After years of trying to stay neutral, the United States had entered World War I in the spring and, as the boats raced that following summer, the most pressing thing on the minds of most people was the effort to mobilize for battle in Europe.
There was boatracing, however. While nobody could know it at the time, it was a landmark year, in fact,
because it marked the first season that the legendary Gar Wood competed for the Gold Cup.
Let’s talk about 1955. Before the ’55 Gold Cup, there was a report that Marion Cooper was being considered as driver of Slo-mo IV.
Was he called, or approached?
He was called.
Taggart was maybe not interested?
Well, I think it was who was first available, maybe. But, Marion Cooper was also a good limited driver.
I’m trying to think if he even came out. He may’ve come out and was just there for a day and then gone. I remember the name came up. He was never made part of the, never came through.
In ’55, Referee Mel Crook banned the flying start under the floating bridge.
It was too dangerous.
Let’s talk about when Slo-mo V flipped while qualifying for the Gold Cup.
Donnie Benson, the son of Al Benson, tested the boat when it was repaired from the flip and was named Miss Seattle. He said the crew put a red line on the speedometer at 140 mph. Don’t go over that because the boat would get too light and could go over again. Was there a concern like that when it was Slo-mo V?
There was a concern, but that was over 140.
It was going way faster than that when it flipped.
It was over 140, I can tell you that. We knew the boat tended to get flighty, OK? A lot of things can cause that and the air spoiler under the nose on the IV and V weren’t the same. The IV was a lot deeper, for one thing, and it was shaped a little bit different. Plus, the V was a slightly lighter boat and a slightly wider boat. But, I remember when we were having trouble getting a little flightly. What the crew did is they took quarter-round molding that was probably one-inch quarter-round and we would wrap it across the bow of the boat in about three places. That was supposed to break up the airflow because we thought there was too much airflow over the top. Now, I don’t recall that helped anything, OK?
May have made it worse.
It may have made it worse. Slo-mo IV and Hawaii Ka’i, as a matter of fact, had the same characteristic in straightaway runs and all. I can remember sitting out there with Hawaii Ka’i in that run right there, looking at the picture, you can see with this long run that Jack is going, he’s coming at us and going by us and you could see at about 175 the boat would literally kick, like that (gestures). It would notch, like that. It was like, wow, this thing is gluing itself down to the water. Slo-mo IV was the same thing. Now you got a vacuum behind that spoiler. And that vacuum, the faster you go the more it becomes a vacuum and it’s suckin’ the boat down, you know?
At Seafair a few years ago, Regas was telling a group of people he was worried he was going to stuff the bow before he got through the trap.
Well, the good news about that is the prop’s coming out of the water, so you’re losing prop, you know? It’d take quite a bit to get the nose down. Of course, once the nose touches it’s gonna grab it on the spoiler. But getting back to Slo-mo V, Slo-mo V didn’t have that characteristic. Of course, as we all know, when it was Miss
Seattle they were testing one time and it got light.
Was Chuck Hickling driving it then?
I think so, yeah.
EDITOR: Andy Muntz
ASSOCIATE EDITORS: Craig Fjarlie, Chris Tracy, Dick Sanders
HYDROFILE EDITOR/WEBMASTER: Lon Erickson HISTORIAN: Bob Greenhow
EDITORIAL BOARD: Clint Newman II, Bob Senior
Unlimited NewsJournal, established in 1973, is published by Unlimiteds Unanimous,
an enthusiast club interested in promoting and documenting the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing.
Copyright © 2017, Unlimited NewsJournal. Reproduction or transmission in whole or part
is not permitted without written approval of the Unlimited NewsJournal.
EDITOR: Unlimited NewsJournal, 14313 Beverly Edmonds Road, Edmonds, WA 98026.
Letters may be edited for clarity and space.
right there. One of the crew guys pushed him aside, got behind the wheel and headed out. Fageol hooked onto the boat right away and all that, but boy, you talk about a horrific thing. You were right there. Of course, the patrol boat got Fageol. I can’t remember, was his back where he had the most bodily damage? Seems to me it was his back. What is interesting, you watch that, you can’t even see him come out of the boat.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Time Capsule: Stepping Into The Wayback Machine, 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago
My $0.02 Worth by Andy Muntz
Detroit lands a new title sponsor.
Don Ibsen interview, Part Two.
In 1903, in what was one of the
first organized powerboat races
in history, Campbell Muir and
Dorothy Levitt piloted a boat
named Napier I up and down the River Lee in Queenstown Harbor, Ireland, to win the British International Trophy.
But, the course was placed in such a way that very few people actually witnessed their
effort. A correspondent for Yachting World called it “the direst fiasco as a spectator event.”
Now, 114 years later, attracting spectators is a struggle again.
In the early days of the sport, the boats were being raced mainly for the enjoyment of their millionaire owners and their rich buddies at the yacht club. Although they appreciated
that somebody might enjoy watching them race, attracting
fans to the events took a back
seat to other more pressing
concerns, such as the fairness of the rules and other technical matters.
That attitude also was
Where were you when Fageol
I was in a crew boat. Actually, it was Doc Lonsbury’s. It was a Chris Craft. They had a particular name for that. I think it was an A boat, but it was quite a large runabout. I can remember being out there. Lou is coming down the backstretch and Slo-mo does the flip. And Lonsbury, it’s his boat and he’s sitting behind the wheel, and he froze. He froze
apparent in how boat owners viewed commercialism. For about half of the sport’s history, it was a serious breach of etiquette to christen your boat with the name of a product. Zalmon Simmons never would have considered calling his boat the Simmons Beautyrest Special and it likely never occurred to Lord Charles Wakefield that he might call his boat Miss Castrol. Instead, they gave their boats pet names such as My Sin and Miss England, respectively.
Then everything changed. The federal tax court ruled in 1963 that the cost of sponsoring a hydroplane
was a legitimate advertising
expense. Suddenly, sponsors
became a critical component in
the entire financial structure of
the sport and it became clear that sponsors view the sport differently than owners.
They don’t see a hydroplane
as a personal plaything. They see hydroplanes as floating
billboards. They want the name that’s painted on the side of the
The organizers of the Spirit of Detroit HydroFest have announced that the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers will be the title sponsor for this year’s event, which will be held on the Detroit River in August. The event will be restructured this year to include two different races in two days instead of one race over two days.
“We are excited to welcome the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers as a partner for one of the greatest community events in the City of Detroit,” said Mark Weber, president of Detroit Riverfront Events, the organization that plans the race.
Last month, in part one, Don Ibsen told us how he became a member of the Slo-mo-shun crew when he was a teenager. He discussed his duties on the crew and reviewed some famous incidents in unlimited hydroplane racing during the early 1950s. This month, in part two, Ibsen talks about the flip of Slo-mo-shun V in 1955, the crash of Slo-mo-shun IV in 1956, and the team’s move to crew the Hawaii Ka’i III. The interview was conducted by Craig Fjarlie and Bob Senior at Ibsen’s home on October 7, 2016.
Detroit has new title sponsor for August races.
boat to be seen by as many people as possible.
In other words, they wanted something that those racers of a
hundred years ago never thought
about. They wanted butts sitting on the beach.
But lately, that has become a
challenge. In this month’s issue we
learn that viewership for the Seattle race has dropped to the point where it no longer makes sense to broadcast the event live. In the past few months, we’ve read how the event organizers at Madison admitted they can only
afford a four-boat race and how
attendance at Detroit has been an issue.
The owners who make the decisions simply can’t fall into the
trap of thinking that since they pay the bills, they should be able to organize the sport to their liking. The sport is different now than it was a hundred years ago. What’s best for the owners is not necessarily what’s best for attracting fans. With the sport’s survival now at stake, the latter must trump the former, not the other way around.
A conversation with Don Ibsen, last surviving
member of the Slo-mo team: Part Two
We love to hear
from our readers.
The new format this year will include two sets of preliminary heats and a winner-take-all final on Saturday for the President’s Cup. That will be followed the following day by three sets of preliminary heats and another winner-take-all final for the Gold Cup.
“That gives us 12 sets of unlimited hydroplane heat races with more action for race goers,” said Weber.
The unlimiteds raced for the President’s Cup between 1926 and 1977, with the trophy being an APBA inboard event for several years since. The Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in all of motorsports, having been first awarded in 1904.
Nice job on the Ibsen interview and Muntz’s Slo-mo overview is nicely done.
The Slo-mo story is still close to my heart and you may recall that I wrote several articles years ago on the topic. In fact, that first article that appeared in MotorBoat was written when I was 19, a college sophomore. Along the way, there were, I think, four other articles published in various places.
The problem with unlimited racing today (or one of them) is that the racing no longer tells a story, as it did in the 1950s. The Seattle-Detroit rivalry had a lot to do with that, of course, as did the right of the Gold Cup winner to name the subsequent year’s contest. And although Seattle had no major league sports at the time, Detroit certainly did and boatracing remained popular for many years. I think the unlimiteds did it to themselves with
incompetent leadership and unimaginative management with a mistaken focus on keeping boat owners happy and ignoring development of a fan base.
Small race fields and uncompetitive racing killed crowd appeal; I think the leadership knew that but they had no political will or creative imagination to somehow make the unlimiteds more compelling and persons who proposed big changes were ignored “because we’ve never done it that way.” The other mistake the old URC made was to promote owners’ personalities instead of the drivers; the Bernie Show collapsed when he finally cashed in his chips. (Speaking of chips, Hanauer is one of the drivers who should have been promoted to the hilt—articulate, good looking, gutsy,
The unlimiteds lost its audience as they grew older and more discerning, and I was one of them. Today, I suspect only the young beer drinkers remain—and Bernie Little encouraged that transition from a compelling contest on water to what anthropologists call
an obscenity rite, the drunken summer festival after the harvest, which are common in primitive cultures (which includes college
fraternities and sororities).
The sport of unlimited hydroplane racing has a long illustrious history that goes back some 114 years. During that time, boats have evolved from standard runabouts, to step hulls, to prop riders, and from speeds of 20 mph to almost 200 mph. Each spring, we like to look back at our history to see what happened at various milestone distances from today. So lets take a look at what the sport was doing 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago.
The Slo-mo-shun V being towed back to the pits after it’s flip in 1955.
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