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Hydro racing future seems uncertain

The future of hydro racing, long a summer staple in Seattle, seems uncertain. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- Seafair has been a staple of Seattle summers for more than a half century, and the highlight of the month-long festival has always been the hydroplane races on Lake Washington.

But they aren't as popular as they once were.

At the height of it, hydroplane racing drew hundreds of thousands of fans to race sites all over the country.

But those numbers are down in recent years, and events like Seafair are becoming more rare.

At one point, nearly a dozen events were held annually across the country.

Brad Luce, a broadcaster for H1 Unlimited and a boat racing expert, says there used to be nearly a dozen sites holding races every year. But now that number is down to five: Madison, Indiana,, Detroit, San Diego, the Tri-Cities and Seattle.

“There’s no question that hydroplane racing has struggled in recent years,” adds Seafair President Richard Andersen.

Much of that struggle has to do with money. “The economics of the sport is very difficult,” says Luce. “It’s hard to figure out and make sure there’s enough money to sustain it.” Building and maintaining a race boat can be prohibitively expensive. “Nobody’s making a lot of money at this, so most of the people involved are doing it for the love of the sport.”

So they turn to local businesses, efforting big sponsors for each boat at each site.

But the key to survival is making the events about more than just boat racing, and appealing to a younger crowd that those sponsors want to reach. “We’ve certainly created discounts that will entice them,” says Andersen. “When they get here, the food, the music, the eclectic extreme sports activities with the bikes and the hydrolight wakeboarding and those sort of things will be an attraction.”

However, despite the struggles of hydroplane racing as a whole, some 160,000 people are expected to hit the shores of Lake Washington this weekend making it one of the most successful sites across the country.

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