RICHLAND - Sam Cole looks good. He's lost 60 pounds since last year and has a lot more energy.
That's great, because he needs it. Cole has two full-time jobs.
Most days, he's a regional vice president of Health Net, Inc., in California.
Then there's his other job as chairman of H1 Unlimited, the governing body of unlimited hydroplanes.
"I'll get home from my first job at 6 p.m. and start working on the other one," Cole said. "Doha (Qatar) is 12 hours ahead of us, and China is 15 hours."
On Wednesday, Cole was at the WSU Tri-Cities campus parking lot, where six hydroplanes, some drivers and displays were on exhibit for hundreds of fans leading up to the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup, which runs Friday through Sunday on the Columbia River.
As he looked around, Cole said, "The biggest challenge is how do we get the next generation of hydroplane fans involved? With things like this."
It hasn't been like that in the unlimited hydroplane world for a number of years.
"Too much of this sport has been done for the contestants," Cole said. "It needs to be more for the fans. We have more autograph sessions. People identify with the drivers. We've got a great crop of young drivers in the sport now to go with our veterans."
Past chairmen or commissioners weren't always thinking about the big picture, Cole said. For that matter, neither were boat owners like Bernie Little, the late Miss Budweiser owner.
"Personally for me, it started in 1985 with guys like Don Jones, Bill Doner and Gary Garbrecht (chairmen or commissioners) who were guys who were thinking 'How much money can I get out of this?' " Cole said. "Bernie was in it for Bernie. We've been trying to change the sport to a business rather than something for a few rich guys' hobbies. But if we grow it, the money will come."
How do you grow it?
* For starters, get more sponsors, which H1 has done.
The Air National Guard is the entire season sponsor. Bulldawg Marketing, which markets NASCAR, signed on.
"We have six to seven boats who have national sponsors this season," Cole said. "It's been a long time since we've had that many."
* Second, H1 has worked to become more immediate and interactive with its fan base.
"The Air National Guard has a new stage where it's out amongst the crowd when we hand out awards," Cole said. "You need to also check out the Degree Activation Zone this weekend. It's pretty great."
H1 has jumped on board with Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo.
"People want it now," he said.
To that end, H1 has been live-streaming its races for the past few years with increasing success.
The Doha race in 2009 was viewed by 6,500 people in 12 countries. The last race, the Detroit Gold Cup two weeks ago, was viewed by 35,000 people from 64 countries.
H1 also has signed an agreement with a television production company for a reality TV show.
"We've been working on this for the last 17 months, and there's a potential 12 to 14 episodes, " Cole said. "The company is trying to sell it to a network."
If the deal happens, Cole believes H1 will really take off in popularity.
* Third, increase the boat count.
There can't be much criticism here. There will be 14 unlimiteds for this weekend's race -- the most in a few seasons.
* Fourth, increase the race site count.
Right now, the race count is at six -- Madison, Ind.; Detroit; Tri-Cities; Seattle; San Diego; and Doha, Qatar.
Last year at this time, it was five. Only after the Tri-Cities race did H1 sign the papers to resume the San Diego race.
This year, Houston could be added.
Cole said H1's goal is to have eight races in the United States and four overseas.
"And I see it happening within five years," he said. "We've had some serious interest this year."
A group from Lake Cumberland, Ky., was at the Madison race. Cole is also talking to officials in Cleveland and Biloxi, Miss.
"We've signed an agreement to run an exhibition in Linyi, China," Cole said. "It could happen in October, but they want to run it in May. Before or after Doha (Nov. 17-19), we want to run an exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
"Houston (scheduled for Sept. 2-4) is 85 to 90 percent done," he continued. "The Air National Guard is the race sponsor. The TV contract is signed. We're sending someone down on Monday to check on the level (of Clear Lake)."
All of this, of course, costs money.
For a 12-race season, Cole said boat crews would have to be paid because no one would have enough vacation time to make it to every race.
"And the hard part is you have to build a NASCAR track for the weekend," he said. "That takes a lot of money."
If H1 continues to get sponsors and more fan interest, it could happen.
He has got the race teams on board.
"Everybody has got to grab an oar and row in the same direction," Cole said. "We've got to look at the big picture."
NOTES: A 14th unlimited was added to the field Wednesday when Fred Leland's U-99 was entered. Greg Hopp drove the boat here in 2010. HAPO Community Credit Union will sponsor the boat, and Tacoma's Ryan Mallow, who also drives the GP-19 Miss Everett on the Grand Prix West circuit, will drive the U-99. Mallow must qualify as an unlimited driver by completing 15 laps. ... H1 also announced Wednesday that it would convert to biofuel for the 2012 season. Cole appointed Scott Carson, the former president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, to lead the conversion project.