Six Things You Didn’t Know about Hydroplane Racing in Detroit

Summertime in Pure Michigan is unlike anything else. Today, we take a look at the popular UAW-GM Spirit of Detroit HydroFest, taking place on the Detroit River August 22 and 23. With three classes of boats—Unlimited and Grand Prix hydroplanes and Formula 2 tunnel boats—the event promises two days of action-packed racing on the river. Here are six things you didn't know about the annual race, as outlined by Mark Weber, president of Detroit Riverfront Events, Inc.

Thanks to the sponsorship by UAW-GM, all general admission parks are free and open to the public; people are encouraged to bring picnic baskets, chairs and blankets to enjoy the races in this relaxed atmosphere. 

Photo Courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Events Inc. Photo Courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Events Inc.

1. A long-standing tradition: Since 1904, the Gold Cup has run annually with the exception of five years.  In 1928 and 1960 the races could not be completed due to inclement weather; because of gas rationing during World War II, the races were cancelled from 1942 - 1944.

2. The Roostertail Turn: You might be familiar with the Roostertail restaurant in Detroit, but do you know the meaning behind its name? The restaurant, owned by the iconic boat-racing Schoenith family, sits at the northeast end of the racecourse. The spray created by the boats, as they enter the turn at  200 MPH, looks reminiscent of a rooster’s tail.  The race’s grandstands—located just steps from the Roostertail—offer a front-row view of the tightest turn on the H1 Unlimited circuit.

3. Belle Isle Bridge Turn: The Detroit River holds not one, but two titles when it comes to turns.  Opposite the Roostertail turn, the southwest end of the course, alongside the MacArthur Bridge (more commonly known as the Belle Isle Bridge), features the biggest turn on the H1 Unlimited circuit.

Photo Courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Events Inc. Photo Courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Events Inc.

4. Most Gold Cup wins: With his name appearing on the APBA Gold Cup a staggering 11 times, Chip Hanauer holds the honor of winning the coveted trophy the most times; Hanauer secured his first Gold Cup win in 1982, while driving for Atlas Van Lines, and his most recent win in 1999, while driving the 'Miss Pico'. Hanauer won three of his Gold Cup titles while driving the legendary 'Miss Budweiser'.

5. Serious horsepower to behold: All but one of this year’s H1 Unlimited hydroplanes are powered by a single Lycoming T-55 L-7 turbine engine that once powered the US Military’s Chinook helicopters from as far back as the Vietnam War. These turbine engines are capable of outputs of around 3000 horsepower and are powered by Jet-A (kerosene) fuel. The one exception is the U-3 Go3 Racing, which joins the H1 Unlimited lineup after a four-year absence. The Indiana-based U-3 is the only piston-powered boat in the fleet, powered by a dual turbocharged Allison V-12. Listen for this boat’s distinctive roar as it rips around the river.

6. 100 years of hydroplane history: 2016 will mark the 100th anniversary of the inaugural APBA Gold Cup race on the Detroit River.  Bernard Smith, driver of the 'Miss Minneapolis', won the right to have his named etched on the Gold Cup in 1916; only time will tell who will earn the honor next summer.

WeberMarkAbout the author: Mark Weber is the president of Detroit Riverfront Events, Inc., the organizing body for the UAW-GM Spirit of Detroit HydroFest.  In addition to organizing races, Weber also has competed in them; his hydroplane racing accomplishments include winning fourteen National Hydroplane Driving Championships. In 1997, Weber piloted 'Miss Budweiser' to the Unlimited Hydroplane High Point National Championship.  He was inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.