Bernstein
Bernstein
For the fourth time in the past four years, H1 Unlimited will be seeking a new chairman after the resignation of Doug Bernstein earlier this month.

Bernstein, a Detroit-area bankruptcy lawyer, had taken over the position last winter after Steve David announced his resignation. David, the former Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison driver, had replaced Sam Cole at the helm of the sport in September 2014. Cole had run the sport since 2005.

Bernstein cited personal reasons for his departure in an email sent to boat owners and race sites. The mantle of leadership now falls to H1 vice-chairperson Charlie Grooms, who served in an interim basis last fall prior to Bernstein’s appointment. Grooms is currently President of Miss Madison Inc. and will spearhead the effort to find a permanent leader for the sport.

“It is very important that we find the right person to lead the sport — not only to stabilize racing with our current teams, venues, and marketing partners but to look toward the sport’s future,” Grooms said in a release.

The sport of Unlimited hydroplane racing has been in a downward spiral for the past decade. This year saw just five points races contested on four weekends, the shortest schedule the sport has had since its early days in the 1940s. Only five boats are expected at this weekend’s season finale in San Diego, the smallest field since the late 1970s.

Lack of corporate sponsorship has been the biggest problem for the sport. With so few races, it has become harder and harder to find companies willing to invest in the sport. As a result, teams and sites have struggled to make ends meet with four active teams citing lack of sponsorship in their decision to skip the season finale.

The new chairperson will be tasked with changing that downward spiral.

“We are not looking for a shepherd, we need a person or persons to vigorously lead us into the future,” said Erick Ellstrom, owner of the U-16 Ellstrom Racing Team.

During the replacement search, H1 Unlimited will gather an executive committee to aggressively look for new marketing partners and venues for 2018 and beyond. There is no word on how long the search will last.

While H1 does its best to right the ship, its competitors plan on soldiering on. In a lot of ways this has been one of the best seasons in years — especially the racing on the water — with nearly every heat hotly-contested and three teams with a legitimate chance to claim the National High Points Championship heading into the finale.

“As drivers, we love racing and more importantly, as drivers, we love racing for our fans and sponsors,” said J. Michael Kelly, driver of the U-12 Graham Trucking. “To make sure it all comes together it takes a village. We have our crews and the countless race site volunteers in our village, now we need a new mayor for our village.”

Jimmy Shane, driver of the U-1 Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison, said he has been thrilled with the way the season has played out on the water. But he also said that changes need to be made within the sport to move it into a different direction and he is already seeing that change.

“There have already been commitments from owners for 2018 to have many, many boats on the water and that’s a good sign,” Shane said. “People are still vested in this sport. I think the biggest thing holding this sport back is the organization itself, H1. I think there is a plan to have that turned around quickly.”