Chip Hanauer always has loved the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing.
As one of the sport's winningest drivers -- he ranks third with 61 victories, behind all-time leader Dave Villwock's 65 and the late Bill Muncey's 62 -- he has given a lot to boat racing.
"I've put more of my life into the sport than any owner who is out there now," Hanauer said.
Which is why he wants to see unlimited racing grow.
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He's in the Tri-Cities today to speak at the 119th Dairy Industry Annual Meeting at the Pasco Red Lion.
Though the 57-year-old says he plans on talking about his racing career, he mainly will speak about the importance of community service.
"It's about finding balance in life," he said. "And finding that balance in life is hard."
One of the reasons he's speaking to the dairy farmers is to pay tribute to the group's sense of community.
Earlier this year, Yakima Valley dairy farmers raised more than $61,000 to help victims of the February fire in Swan Lake on the Yakama Indian Reservation. The group also supports high school sports by sponsoring state events.
"The dairy farmers really are involved in the community," Hanauer said. "It was fun to go to a farm. It was like stepping back into the old America. It was great to see American families. Growing up in Seattle, I thought all dairy farmers were big factory corporations. But they're 98 percent families."
Hanauer admits his own sense of community service emerged during high school.
"I don't know where it came from," he said. "It's always been really strong. I came from a difficult home environment. My mother was an alcoholic who was extremely abusive, and my father was gone all of the time.
"I have a great deal of empathy for kids who have problems, and it's pretty hard to feel it and not act on that."
Hanauer studied special education at Washington State University. After college, he assisted youth with behavior disorders.
Those were difficult years, he said. Many of those kids were convicted felons, and Hanauer's days would begin at 4:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
After two years, he left the job to become a full-time boat driver.
"I tell kids I left to go to something safer, like boat racing," he jokes.
But Hanauer has never forgotten his sense of community.
Today, he volunteers at the Veterans Affairs hospital spinal cord unit in Seattle, where he works with paralyzed veterans.
"Selfishly, when I came away from the spinal injury unit, it was a reminder of how fortunate I am," he said. "I get way more out of it than they get from me. But I think of how lucky I am. Here's a guy like me, crashing a hydroplane at 200 mph. I should be in that unit. I'm consciously aware of how lucky I am."
And that provides him with perspective.
"It used to be that if I didn't win the Columbia Cup, I was just devastated," he said. "Now every hour I can feed myself, walk, etc., I appreciate it."
But let's not forget that balance in life. For Hanauer, that means boat racing.
Hanauer says he likes what he sees in H1 Unlimited racing -- such as more corporate involvement. But he's afraid H1 won't make major changes.
"You've gotta bring more parity," he said. "I think we have to look at NASCAR. I don't care how much money you bring to the sport. There is (no equipment) you can buy and nothing you can do to win. You have to have a driver make great decisions, a pit crew, owners, sponsors."
Hanauer, who has worked with NASCAR teams the past two years, said there should be one supplier of boat engines, one for propellers, one for skid fins and one for rudders.
"That drives the cost way, way down," he said. "In NASCAR, the cars don't matter. They're stock cars. They're simply a tennis racket. It's the people who matter."
That's not the current state of boat racing, he said.
"The Ellstrom team has far more finances, and Oberto has better financing," he said. "Then there is everybody else. They may like you to believe they're close. But they're not."
If teams used the NASCAR model, he said, teams would use a sealed motor so the crews couldn't tinker with it. Teams also would have five to six props from which to choose.
He has more suggestions.
"Even the show needs to be changed," Hanauer said. "Young people's attention spans are shorter. That's who the sport is after. Racing in the Columbia Cup, start it at noon and have it over at 2:30 p.m. Always have boats in the water, and you've got to be able to turn it around quickly."
Hanauer said in his talks with NASCAR officials over the years, their biggest regret was not having franchises when they started.
"Can you imagine what they'd be worth now?" he asked.
Unlimited hydroplane racing could do that, he said.
"I think there needs to be approximately an initial 20 franchises," he said. "Now you've got an investment in the sport. At some point, I could see an owner would own a franchise that's worth more than he paid for it."
Pay a team manager and the driver a full salary, maybe have one half-time employee, and the rest of the crew would be weekend warriors.
"That gives more people a chance to be around the sport," he said.
Hanauer admits H1 officials aren't interested in his suggestions, many of which have merit. But it's plain to see how much he still loves the sport.
"I was a teacher for two years, then I made a living as a pro driver and I retired at 45," he said. "I would like other young drivers to get the same chances I got. Most of those drivers are working full-time jobs, too. And frankly there is more raw driving talent in those boats I see now."