Hydro Racing

Don't expect Tri-Cities to have Seafair problems

KENNEWICK -- Albert Lee III was one of those kids who grew up in Seattle racing hydroplanes.

Not on the water, mind you, but in front of his house.

"We'd carve these boats out of balsa wood," said Lee, the namesake of his grandfather who started Albert Lee Appliance 71 years ago in Seattle. "We'd turn the hose on and let the water run in the gutter, and then race those boats. But we had to get them before they went down the drain."

Lee got a little more serious with hydroplanes last month when he ponied up the major sponsorship money to keep the races going at Seafair.

The race was in trouble when General Motors, the main sponsor of the race, declared bankruptcy last year.

Lee stepped up and will sponsor the race for the next three years, with an option for the next gthree years after that. It'll be called the Albert Lee Cup.

"It took four days to get the deal done," said Lee. "I wish my grandfather was alive to see it."

Could what happened to Seafair last month happen here?

Mike Denslow, president of the Tri-City Water Follies, says no.

"We're doing really well," Denslow said. "Ever since we changed things four years ago, we've watched our numbers on a daily basis. I never felt (a Seafair cancellation) was going to happen. There was only $40 grand separating the groups. Somebody would have stepped forward."

But Dr. Ken Muscatel, who owns and drives the U-25 Superior Racing, said the Seattle situation was serious.

"Seattle almost had to fold its doors," Muscatel said. "If that happened, this race (Columbia Cup) probably wouldn't happen because I wouldn't have raced here. And I know of other teams that wouldn't."

As for getting more races on the schedule -- this season there are just five -- everyone is hopeful.

Muscatel said the group still hopes to get Evansville and San Diego back into the fold -- not for this year, but hopefully next year.

Greg O'Farrell, who owns the U-21 Albert Lee, says he's one of the owners who is pushing harder for more races.

"You know, I'm one of a few owners who want to make this a business rather than a hobby," O'Farrell said. "But I think we'd be happy with six races (stateside) and three in the Middle East."

Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani, who brought the boats to race in Qatar last November, is looking for a second race site in the Middle East for next season.