Regatta Review #201

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Tri-Cities Race Starts Today!

The H1 Unlimiteds are on the water again this weekend at "Tri-Cities" in Washington state.

Their local NBC affiliate does a great job covering the race, and they stream it all to the internet. For schedule and links:

47 Years Of Racing In The Tri-Cities
By Fred Farley - H1 Unlimited Historian

For 47 years, the Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington have played host to "Water Racing's Greatest Show," the Unlimited hydroplanes-the Thunderboats of the racing world.

Since 1966, the mighty Unlimiteds have occupied center stage as the headline event for the annual Tri-City Water Follies celebration. The race was called the Atomic Cup in the early days but was renamed the Columbia Cup in 1976.

When the hydros first came to town to do competitive battle, the Columbia Park pit area was a wilderness dustbowl. It was a far cry from the modern well-developed recreational facility that it is today.

But the local Water Follies committee had years of experience in staging Limited hydroplane races at Sacajawea Park and had its act together. The 1966 Atomic Cup was an unqualified success, garnering rave reviews from fans, participants, and the media alike.

And from that day to this, the Tri-Cities regatta has been a mainstay on the Unlimited calendar and a highlight of the racing year.

The twelve boats that showed up for that first Atomic Cup had almost nothing in common with their modern counterparts. All were piston-powered and all but one used government surplus Allison or Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, left over from World War II. (Jet turbine power in race boats was considered to be in the realm of science fiction in 1966.)

The hydroplanes themselves were rather narrow and quite box-shaped. The driver sat behind-rather than in front of-the engine in an open cockpit with no seat belt. (In the days before the F-16 safety canopy, it was believed that a driver had a better chance of surviving a serious accident if he were thrown clear of his boat.)

The modern Unlimiteds are wider and flatter and can corner much better and faster than the earlier designs.

The one thing that the boats of 1966 did have in common with those racing in 2013 was tremendous straightaway speed. Then as now, the sight of an Unlimited hydroplane at full throttle and with a roostertail of spray trailing behind it is the most awesome spectacle in all of motor sports.

The 1966 Atomic Cup proved to be the first-ever victory for MISS BUDWEISER team founder Bernie Little of Lakeland, Florida. (He went on to win a total of 134 prior to his death in 2003.) Little had been racing since 1963, but this was his initial trip to the winner's circle. With Bill Brow driving, MISS BUDWEISER won all three heats at an average speed of 94.937 miles per hour.

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