Regatta going back to 2-mile course
Thursday, November 03, 2016 3:03 PM
For the past several years, the Madison Regatta has struggled with a way to balance what is the best race course for Unlimited hydroplane teams while at the same time providing the best show it can for fans.
DEUCE FOR WILD: The Spirit of Qatar and Oh Boy! Oberto race through turn two just downstream from the Madison-Milton Bridge during the 2011 Madison Regatta when the Indiana Governor’s Cup was contested on a 2-mile Wild Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course during bridge construction. The Regatta announced Wednesday that after competing on 2.5- and 2.89-mile courses in recent years the event will go back to a 2-mile circuit in 2017 to improve fan experience and provide safer and less damaging race conditions for teams. (2011 Courier file photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison Regatta President Dan Cole cited 3 reasons for the switch back to a 2-mile race course:
• A smaller footprint is less area to cover and improves ability to service fans.
• The shorter course benefits race teams, improves safety and helps save equipment.
• The smaller course should make for a better show and that is better for the fans.
On Wednesday the Regatta announced that it has opted to return to the smaller 2-mile race course that was used several years ago. But, in a twist, the course will no longer go under the Madison-Milton Bridge.
In making the announcement, Regatta President Dan Cole admitted that the organization was sure to hear negative feedback about the decision to take the bridge out of the equation, but he also defended the decision by saying it was the best course of action overall.
“The board met twice about this and it’s something that we gave a lot of thought to,” Cole said. “But the bottom line is that we have to put on a better show for the fans and this is the direction we have to take.”
The crux of the issue remains the submerged former cofferdam and sand bar on the Kentucky side of the river opposite Broadway in Madison. The shallow water in that area causes unusual waves — or “holes” — right at the exit pin of turn one making it dangerous to navigate for hydro pilots and their boats.
Last year the Regatta increased the length of the course to a monstrous 2.89 miles, pushing the first turn further downriver and putting the sand bar in the middle of the back straightaway. The result was less trouble in the turn but straightaways nearly a mile long.
The worry about that configuration was that the long straightaways would lead to increased speeds and possibly lead to accidents. As it turned out, such an accident did occur when Cal Phipps flipped his U-27 Dalton Industries hydroplane on the backstretch during the final heat. Phipps escaped injury but the crash caused a reported quarter of a million dollars in damage to the boat.
Cole and the Regatta leadership wanted to keep the first turn away from the sand bar but needed to find a way to shorten the course to make for safer racing. After much discussion, going to two miles and putting the second turn just in front of the bridge — rather than beyond — was the only way to go.
“(H1 Chairman) Charlie Grooms liked the idea. It is better on equipment and there is much less wear and tear for the teams,” Cole said. “There were concerns about the long straightaway and this will address that.”
Cole said there were other considerations as well. The Regatta does not control any of the shoreline east of the bridge and, as a result, does not receive any money from spectators in that area. There was also a concern with the quality of racing the longer course brings, which spreads boats out further.
“There were really three reasons why we decided to go this way. The first is that it gives us a smaller footprint. We have less area to cover and more ability to service our fans,” Cole said. “The second is that it’s a benefit to the hydroplanes and helps save equipment. But the most important reason is that it’s better for the fans. We need to have better racing. We’re not going to attract a new generation of fans by having boats doing 200 mph parade laps. We need to put on a better show and we feel the smaller course will do that.”
Cole acknowledged that the smaller course does have its drawbacks. In the past, teams have complained that the 2-mile course does not allow the waves time to dissipate and that boats end up driving through their own wakes making for a potentially dangerous situation. But Cole countered that Madison’s course isn’t any more dangerous than anywhere else.
“Detroit has its holes and has more accidents in the history of this sport than any other race site,” Cole said. “At the end of the day it’s about what’s best for the customer and we feel that this is.”
The Indiana Governor’s Cup at Madison is scheduled to be run June 30-July 2 next year.
In other business:
• Cole announced the formation of a Finance and Budget Committee led by former Regatta President Tim Bipes to study what is needed to make the race financially viable. According to Bipes, the Regatta currently has a budget that takes debt reduction into consideration and is only $274 in the red.
“We’re going to split that debt between the two of us,” Cole said with a smile.
• Another former Regatta president, Dave Taylor, will represent the Madison Regatta at the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony Saturday in Owensboro. Former Madisonsonian and racing legend “Wild” Bill Cantrell — for whom the Madison course is named — will be inducted. He was originally from Louisville.
• The annual Madison Regatta Christmas Party will be held Saturday, Dec. 17 at the VFW Post 1969 starting at 7:30 p.m. All Regatta members are invited to attend.