Seattle Seafair: Can These Changes Eliminate Boat Race Boredom?
Do you love everything about the hydroplane races, or would you change a few things?
Why Isn't Hydroplane Racing More Popular?
I have lived in Washington State my entire life but was only introduced to hydroplane racing when I moved to the Tri-Cities area almost 20 years ago. The first few years I would go watch from the shoreline but honestly had absolutely no idea what was going on. It was fun to watch but I didn't know what the rules were, which boat actually won each race, or anything about the rich history the northwest has had with the sport for almost 75 years. Now that I have become a more serious hydroplane racing fan, I wish it was more popular with the mainstream but I might have a few ideas why it is not.
Casusual Hydroplane Fans Have No Idea
There are a lot of reasons why I think hydroplane racing is not as popular as football, baseball, or hockey in Washington State. If most people do happen to go to a race, they usually can not hear race announcers or the broadcast crew because the courses are big and they don't have speakers all the way around. Most people don't own portable radios and have no idea what is going on during events. Somehow getting race audio to the entire fan community at events has to be a priority. They already do an amazing job of both video and audio coverage of H1 Unlimited hydroplane racing, now they need to spread that along the entire shoreline and make it easily audible & visible to the people watching. At the very least, promote exactly where to get coverage and make sure crowds have adequate wifi to watch or listen on their phones.
Make Hydroplane Racing More Fun for Fans
Going to many races myself, if there was one thing I would change it would be the amount of downtime throughout the weekend when there is nothing happening. Sometimes hours and hours go by without anything going on. Over the course of a weekend, the lack of activity can get exhausting. There needs to be a large effort to have much more boat racing with less downtime in between. They could compress a normal 3-day event into 2 days if they can't find more boats. Also, they should find creative ways to show new fans the cool and interesting history the Northwest has with this longstanding and exciting sport
Make Hydroplane Racing More Accessible for Fans
Hydroplane racing is very complicated, but they need to strive to make it seem simpler and more accessible to the everyday fan. My dad (who had never watched or listened to a hydroplane race ever before) was trying to listen to the Water Follies this year. After listening for a couple of hours he said that he was completely lost and confused on the complexities of the sport and had a ton of questions. He had questions about the boats, the starting rules, and words he had never heard of before like a "canard". I have been coming to the yearly Columbia Cup in Tri-Cities for almost 20 years and am just now starting to understand most of what is going on during a hydroplane race weekend.
To help get people more access to the sport, I feel H1 Unlimited could produce a streaming show (like Welcome to Wrexham or Hard Knocks) where fans can peek behind the curtain and build a relationship with the drivers and their teams. The sport is full of great storylines every season, they just need a way to show that to new fans. A produced streaming show on Amazon Prime or Apple TV could provide that kind of exposure and emotional connection that seems to be missing today.
Popular Sports That Have Made Big Changes in History
If you look at other popular sports in the United States, they have all had large rule changes to make the sport more accessible or exciting to the fans. When the NFL was first created, they did not pass the ball through the air and wore leather helmets with limited padding. Major League Baseball has had multiple changes in equipment, they added the infamous pitching clock, and even changed the name of the sport itself. Did you know baseball was originally called Knickerbocker in 1845 and the game only ended when one team reached 21 runs? The NBA didn't have 3-point shots until 1979, and that is just the largest of many changes the sport has made to make the game more fun for fans. Older hydroplane race fans are resistant to change in the sport they love but I am afraid if they don't start adopting some of these same kinds of strategies, hydroplane races could go away for good.
Add Different Classes of Boat Racing or More Unlimited H1s
The main reason people get bored at boat races is because of all the downtime between the action. If H1 Unlimited can not get more hydroplanes to fill that time, then they should add other classes of boats for racing besides the GPA or 2.5 stock boats. There is a new class of electric racing boats called the E1 Series that are more of a hydrofoil and have a top speed of 100 kph (62 mph) and can corner on courses more like a Formula 1 car. The tracks are complex with different types of turns and directions bringing a whole new feel. Drag speed boats are also a no-brainer with ultra-loud 10,000 hp engines and a 270 mph top speed. I think a balance of more boats and more classes like these would be the best way to go.
The Future of Hydroplane Racing: Possible Rule Change Ideas
Changes to the sport need to focus on making it more fun and exciting for race fans while keeping the drivers safe at the same time. One of the most funky and confusing parts of hydroplane racing is the complexity of how the race starts and how drivers claim their lanes. These strange rules mostly lead to unpredictable starts and races that are not very close by the end of the 1st lap. Currently, drivers that claim the two inside lanes at the start usually pull way ahead of the pack because of the much longer distance the other boats have to travel on the outside of the track. I have seen boats hit the start perfectly on the outside with a 1/2 roostertail lead into turn 1, then fall to 3rd or 4th by the end of turn 2 just seconds later. How do you fix this problem?
New Starting Rules Could Mean Closer & More Exciting Races
What if you could make changes to how the race starts that would allow for a closer more exciting race? Other 'racing' sports have found ways to equalize this and make lane choice less of an advantage. Auto racing places people in positions based on qualifying times and does not allow them to go above certain speeds until the start. Track & Field staggers the runner's start location so all have the same distance to run on the track. You could use the same kind of strategies with boat racing easily.
Instead of the current jockeying for lane position strategy, what if the best qualifying time for the weekend picks their lane in the final and all boats have the same distance to travel in the first lap? Stagger the start from the outside lane to the inside like in track & field but do it with time. Each boat's start time would be slightly behind the boat on its outside lane so they all travel the same distance on the first lap. Drivers can go as slow as they need to get their start time correct in their assigned lane. All boats can NOT go above 100 mph until they cross the start/finish line at their assigned staggered start time.
Don't Go Above 100 mph Until Hitting the Start/Finish Line
The outside lane hits the start/finish line first and once each driver crosses the start/finish line they officially start and can accelerate above the 100 mph limit. The boat claiming the inside lane starts slightly behind the boat in the lane outside it. The distance between boats would be dependent on the difference in length between each lane's lap. Once each boat hits the start/finish line, all regular and current race rules apply for the rest of the race just as they exist now. Each driver will need to be tracked individually to make sure they each start on time. Drivers that hit the start/finish line early or speed up before the start/finish line will be assessed a penalty. All boats must stay in their lanes until gaining a full rooster tail lead on another boat to cut in front.
This race start change should make the races much more competitive, especially in the first couple of laps. It also still gives an advantage for being the fastest boat in qualifying because drivers get to choose their lane. Even though the first lap distance will be the same for all boats, the inside lanes will still have an advantage in the remaining laps. But this change also allows for an outside boat to be faster on the first lap and the possibility to claim an inside lane with enough of a lead early on. My main goal for these rule change ideas is to make each race closer and more exciting for the fans watching. The closer together boats are while they are racing, the more fans love it and the more likely they are to come back. The problem is that the way they race now, close and tight races are few and far between if they happen at all.