Feedback positive for Regatta's two-day format
Short, action-packed program may be key to expanding sport
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 11:00 AM
Once upon a time, boat races were one-day affairs when a fan could stroll down to the riverfront, sit down with his favorite beverage and watch a race from start to finish in one sitting.
FAST-PACED: While there was plenty of rough racing on the Ohio River — like the big roller the Peters and May hit in turn two and the buoy the Qatar/Red Dot struck in turn one -— it was smooth sailing for many vendors including the Oberto/Miss Madison souvenir shop (above) at the 2014 Madison Regatta. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
H1 Unlimited Points Standings
2014 H1 UNLIMITED
(Through 1 of 6 races)
Boat, Driver, Points, Back
1. Jimmy Shane, 6 Oberto/Miss Madison, 1,469, -
2. J. Michael Kelly, 1 Graham Trucking, 1,280, -189
3. Jon Zimmerman, 9 Spirit of Qatar, 1,205, -264
4. Cal Phipps, 7 Graham Trucking, 1,015, -454
5. Jamie Nilsen, 21 GoFastTurnLeft Racing, 975, -494
6. Tom Thompson, 11 Peters & May, 660, -809
7. Greg Hopp, 12 Miss DiJulio, 225, -1,244
8. Mike Webster, 22 Webster Racing, 0, -1,469
For the most part, those days are over. In an attempt to fill more time with more action over a three-day weekend, race sites have gone to splitting up the racing, running the first set of heats on Saturday afternoon and the rest of the race on Sunday.
It's a trend that Sam Cole is trying to reverse and this weekend, fans in Madison got a taste of what the H1 chairman hopes will be a new era in racing.
"This was the first time we think in 25 years that a race was scheduled and run in one day," Cole said. "And we did it in five hours and 30 minutes. This was an experiment and the Madison Regatta committee pulled it off. It was a real exciting race for the fans and I think it's exciting for the sport."
Part of the reason Cole is pushing for the compressed schedule is to make the sport more marketable. In recent years, the trend has been to make the races last longer with some sites not holding final heats until nearly 6 p.m. local time.
That long of a schedule turns off the fans, according to Cole, and kills any hopes of a possible national television package.
"The number one feedback we get from fans is that there is too much downtime, that there is several hours where nothing is going on," Cole said. "We made this a shorter program with less downtown and even with having to open the river for barges, we were still done and wrapped up by 5 p.m. Fans don't want to stay any later than that, especially if they have to work on Monday.
"My goal is to get the races down to four hours and if we do that, we can get TV interested," Cole said. "Right now, we have no chance to get TV interested because of how long it takes."
Madison Regatta President Tim Torrance said that his committee walked a fine line between compressing the schedule enough to please fans but also allow for enough time to make the event profitable for vendors. Overall, he was very pleased with the results.
"I thought it kind of went true to form on how I thought it would go," Torrance said. "I thought there would be good action on Saturday with testing and qualifying and the vintage boats. And then on Sunday it was kind of a non-stop day with testing, ceremonies, and air show, heat racing. In my mind, that's what I wanted to see on a racing weekend, a day of testing and qualifying and a day of racing."
In addition to having the racing all in one day, Madison also eliminated one day of on-water activity, choosing to use Friday as a set-up day instead. The result was that all teams were forced to test as often as they could in the short window they had.
Torrance said while the boat owners didn't really complain about the changes, they did offer some suggestions on how to tweak the format. On the other hand, he heard nothing but positives from the fans.
"I had all kinds of people coming up to me and telling me how much they liked the schedule," Torrance said. "There was nothing by positive feedback."
Of course Torrance admits that the Regatta caught a break with not only the weather, but the water conditions. For the first time in several years there was no adverse weather or heavy debris in the Ohio River and as a result, the only delay was just 20 minutes for the final to allow anogther session of vintage exhibitions.
"We had no serious delays, other than a problem in testing on Saturday morning that was mostly out of our control," Torrance said. "But on Sunday, everything ran smoothly."
Torrance, whose term as president ends in September, said that the committee has already talked about what tweaks they can make for next year but for the most part, they are happy with the way the schedule stands.
Cole hopes that other race sites see the kind of race Madison staged and decide to make the switch to one-day events as well.
"What I hear from other sites all the time is that they can't do this, there isn't enough time," Cole said. "But Madison showed it can work and it was great. I had a great time and I know everybody else did too."