Somewhere out there, Kathy Powell is enjoying a cruise and is unavailable to talk.
That’s too bad because Powell, the event director of the Tri-Cities Water Follies, would be celebrating after the Tri-Cities was picked this week for the unlimited hydroplane American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup in 2015.
The Water Follies board voted unanimously Monday night to approve taking on the event July 24-26.
“We’re still a little numb,” said Ron Hue, Water Follies president. “We have talked about it a number of times. And (board member) Mike Denslow gave us the numbers. We thought we could do it. We are just as excited as we can be to have this coming here.”
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The biggest challenge was to convince the people from HAPO Credit Union, who stepped in last year to sponsor the Columbia Cup when Lamb Weston stepped away, that it was worth the investment.
That didn’t take long, said Hue.
“Once they understood what a big deal it was, they were onboard,” Hue said.
So next year, it will be called the HAPO Gold Cup — and it will mark the 50th anniversary of unlimited racing on the Columbia River.
The Gold Cup is the oldest motorsports event on record. The first race was in 1904.
“It’s our Stanley Cup. It’s our World Series, our Daytona 500. It is the brass ring,” said Steve David, interim chairman of the hydroplane racing organization, H1 Unlimited.
Denslow, the Water Follies vice president and a member of the H1 board of directors, says he tells his nonboat race friends a simple analogy to understand how big this race is.
“I tell them, ‘Imagine we live in Phoenix and we have the Fiesta Bowl every year,’ ” Denslow said. “Now that’s a big event. But then I say we want to host the Super Bowl. Then they understand.”
The Water Follies must pay the power boat association sanctioning fee, about $5,000 to $6,000. And H1 Unlimited wants some extra prize money for the top three finishers. Normally, each team gets the same amount of towing money to come to a race.
But David wants each race site to have that extra incentive for teams to win.
“Whether that’s an extra $100 or closer to $15,000, that’s not easy to come up with that extra money,” David said. “But the Tri-Cities made a commitment for that to happen.”
The Tri-Cities played host to the Gold Cup three times in the ‘70s. The last time the Gold Cup was in the Tri-Cities was 1984.
Since 1990, the race has been in Detroit.
The Detroit River Regatta Association (DRRA) bought the right to the race back then.
“It was after Hydro-Prop owned the sport, and the assets were sold off after the death of its owner, Gary Garbrecht,” David said.
But Detroit has had its problems in recent years.
High winds canceled the event a few years back. The boat count seemed to be dwindling for the mid-July race, and the economy in the greater Detroit area is struggling.
Last summer, only eight boats made it to the event, and that did not please the Detroit organizers.
“That was part of (the problem),” admitted David, the former unlimited driver who took over the H1 Unlimited chairman position on an interim basis in September. “It’s been building for years, the problems between the DRRA and H1. And I’ll be the first to acknowledge we (H1) have had problems.”
The Detroit association announced last week that it would not hold the Gold Cup, and David immediately thought of the Tri-Cities.
The Water Follies group hoped that maybe it could have the event next year for the 50th anniversary.
“It’s a major undertaking for the Tri-Cities folks,” David said by phone from his Florida home. “But I know they can pull it off.”
For the past few years, the Tri-City race seems to get the highest boat count — mainly because this is the first stop on the West Coast portion of the schedule, and a number of race teams are based in the Northwest.
But Hue believes a Tri-City Gold Cup could have 15 or 16 boats next summer. That’s about three or four more than normal here.
That would automatically bring a C heat race for each set of preliminary heats.
A Gold Cup also will mean more racing action for fans. There is a fourth round of preliminary heat races, rather than just the three rounds a Columbia Cup race would have.
Two sets of preliminary races would be Saturday, and two more sets plus the final would be Sunday.
A normal Columbia Cup might have seven races on a weekend without the provisional heat, while a Gold Cup would have a minimum of nine races and a possible maximum of 13.
Each Gold Cup preliminary heat would also be four laps rather than the normal five. And the final still would be five laps.
With the move, David said Detroit’s exclusivity hosting the Gold Cup is gone.
“Now we may go back to the previous rules, when we could rotate it among race sites willing to come up with the extra money to do so,” David said.
Eventually, David said, he could see it going to the home site of the previous Gold Cup winner, as it did in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
But he’s confident the Gold Cup is in the right place for 2015.
“The Tri-Cities really deserved this,” David said. “One thing about the Tri-Cities, it’s always been respected by us. They always do a good job. They always do it right. And they always ask, ‘What can we do better?’ It seemed natural for them to host it for their 50th anniversary.”