Grand Prix West hydroplanes competing at the 2015 Madison Regatta. (Courier file photo by Mark Campbell)
Grand Prix West hydroplanes competing at the 2015 Madison Regatta. (Courier file photo by Mark Campbell)
The roar of piston-powered hydroplanes will be heard on the Ohio River once again next summer when the Grand Prix West hydroplanes return to the Madison Regatta after a one-year hiatus.

Regatta President Dan Cole and GPW Chairman Sam Cole made the announcement on Friday that at least 10 of the automotive-powered hydros will be on hand to run in concert with the bigger Unlimiteds on 2017 race weekend.

“We’re real happy to have the Grand Prix West series back in Madison. They were such a big hit two years ago and a lot of people really were on us about getting those guys back,” Dan Cole said. “Sam and Crystal McHargue worked really hard on getting this deal worked out and we couldn’t be happier.”

McHargue, a four-time Madison Regatta President, negotiated the deal with Sam Cole to bring the series to Madison. The Coles are brothers and Dan wanted to avoid any conflict of interest in the deal.

The Grand Prix class consists of automotive-powered hydroplanes only slightly smaller than the Unlimited class. They will run on a mile and a quarter course at Madison — as opposed to two miles for the Unlimiteds — and Dan Cole said the plan is to intermingle the two classes throughout the weekend.

“The biggest thing we hear about from the fans is the dead time. With the format that I’m shooting for, we’re going to have five hours of racing on Saturday and Sunday and you’re not going to have the 30-, 40-, 60-minute gaps in between heats,” Dan Cole said. “We’re going to have the Grand Prixs out, when they come in, we’re going to put Unlimiteds on the water. It’s going to be better for the fans and that’s the biggest thing. With this class, they are very competitive and they have some great drivers and they’ve got some great boats. They’re very evenly-matched. That’s what we’re trying to give the fans, more bang for their buck. More activity, less down time.”

Sam Cole, a former chairman of H1 Unlimited, joined the GPW circuit last year and is busy building the series’ brand. The series has already nearly doubled its schedule from a year ago and Cole couldn’t be more thrilled about bringing his boats back to his hometown.

“We’re extremely excited about it and appreciate the great opportunity,” Sam Cole said. “We will have other announcements over the next couple of weeks regarding our schedule and we’re just doggone excited to be coming back to Madison. I know the last time there were river issues, but a lot of people liked the Grand Prixs and I think that were excited to be coming back.”

If not for the GPWs, there might not have been a Madison Regatta in 2015. Rising river levels and heavy debris forced cancellation of all on-water activity on Friday and threatened to cancel Saturday as well. But the GPW boats squeezed into the very small pit area and put on a four-heat show to entertain fans along the shoreline. Five Unlimiteds then put on an exhibition on Sunday.

Scott Pierce, a former Unlimited driver and 1988 winner of the Indiana Governor’s Cup, was part of that 2015 GPW race and is not only glad to be coming back to Madison, but was thrilled to get to put on the show lin 2015, even with the tough water conditions.

“The river was challenging, obviously, that year but I think this whole river thing gets overblown. I’ve been racing there for over 20 years and I can remember years when we had issues with the river and there were a number of years where we had a beautiful river and nobody seemed to talk about it. We just went and did our deal and it seemed to work out fine,” Pierce said. “Lately it seems to be the topic of conversation and I’d like to see some of that shift over to the topic of racing because the river is, what it is. When you look at 2015, the Grand Prixs put the boats in the water and put on a heck of a show. Was it challenging? Yeah, but we did it and didn’t say anything about it, we didn’t cry about it, we just went in and did it. I would like to see more of that going forward.”

For Pierce, getting on the water and racing that weekend was bigger than just a race. The veteran driver knew how important putting on a show was for the Madison Regatta itself.

“They had a good crowd that day and had there been nothing going on, it could have been tragic for Madison and the organizers. We recognized that and understood that,” Pierce said. “That was one of the main impetuses to make sure we got the boats on the water. The race committee made some concessions for us to make it safer and a lot of them I’d like to see from the get-go, regardless of the river conditions. They moved the race track closer to the Indiana side and dropped the back straightaway out of the really bad flow from the Kentucky River. The debris was way worse down the Kentucky side than on the Madison side. And seeing how the paying fans and the ones who bought wristbands to support the event are on the Indiana side, we think it’s important to move the track closer to them so they can really experience the speed and sound of these boats.”

Dan Cole said that the Regatta is still negotiating with a sponsor for the event and will make that announcement at a later date.

The Madison Regatta will be held June 30-July 2 in 2017.