The Miss U.S. and replica Gale V race at Detroit last month during the APBA Gold Cup. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
The Miss U.S. and replica Gale V race at Detroit last month during the APBA Gold Cup. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
The roar of piston-powered hydroplanes will be heard all along the riverfront this weekend when the inaugural 5-To-The-5 vintage hydroplane event will be run Saturday and Sunday on the Ohio River.

Event organizers expect 35 to 50 hydroplanes — ranging from the smallest T-Class all the way up to the big Unlimiteds, — to be on hand for the event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free, although donations will be accepted.

Madison has a long history of hydroplane racing dating all the way back to the early 20th century. The current Madison Regatta has been run every year since 1949 — river conditions permitting — with the big Unlimiteds highlighting the weekend since 1954.

For most of that history, the boats have been powered by piston engines, large reciprocating monsters that could be heard throughout the valley and on the hilltops rather than the quieter turbines that dominate today’s Unlimited class.

For years, local vintage hydroplane owners and drivers have brought their boats to the Madison Regatta to put on exhibition races but the idea of putting on a stand-alone event was only a dream. But several years ago that idea began to take root and the 5-To-The-5 Vintage Hydroplane Club was founded.

“We wanted a stand-alone vintage event but we could never get it going,” said Rob Holt, who along with Dave Johnson, Paige Taff, Paul Dills and others founded the Club. “We’ve only been a club for a year and a half but we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get the event going. It’s been a process. Early on, we didn’t know what we were doing, none of us had put on a event. We’ve had to learn and we’ve talked to the city and the APBA and they told us everything we needed to do.”

The response from the city has been terrific, according to Holt. From a club that started with five people, 15 times as many will be on hand to help make the this weekend a reality, from building docks to running clocks. Holt said the response has been overwhelming.

“We have probably a core of about 20 club members, but Jim Bartlett, who runs some other events, is working with us to find volunteers to run gates,” Holt said. “I bet there will be 50 volunteers, not counting us 20, on hand so maybe as many as 75 helping us out.”

Opening ceremonies are at 9 a.m. daily with boats running from 10 a.m. to noon. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. From noon to 1 p.m. the pits will be opened to allow anybody to come in and see the boats up close.

Racing will be divided by class with as many as eight boats — depending upon their size — on the water at a time. With as many as 50 boats, Holt expects the day to be chock-full of activity.

While nearly every APBA class will be represented, the Unlimiteds will most likely draw the most attention. The refurbished Miss U.S., the replica Gale V and a 1970s-era Miss Budweiser will be on hand to wow the crowds and give fans a chance to see what Unlimiyed racing looked like in the 1960s and 1970s.

Organizers have not looked beyond this year — “We’re just trying to get through the weekend,” Johnson joked — but the hope is to not only make the event yearly, but to also one day build a hydroplane museum in Madison.

Johnson’s boat shop, located on First Street, is already the unofficial hydro museum of Madison with memorabilia spanning 50 years of racing in the city, including a racing suit worn by former Miss Madison driver Ron Snyder and an Ed Cooper Sr. crew uniform when he was a Miss M crewman.

Johnson acquires new memorabilia seemingly daily and club members would love to find a permanent home for the collection.

“We know Seattle has a hydroplane museum but we have a lot of history here too, not just in Madison but in the area,” Holt said. “That’s our ultimate goal, to get a museum here. We’ll be taking donations and hopefully we can work toward that.”

The event is being run in honor of two local hydro legends who died in recent years — Jon Peddie, the only native Madisonian to drive the Miss Madison, and Bedford’s Billy Cousins, who campaigned the always colorful River Rat hydroplane both in competition and later as a vintage — and were both supportive of vintage hydro racing.

More more information on the 5-To-The-5 Vintage Hydroplane Event, visit the organization’s Facebook page.