On the side of the U-1 Oberto team trailer, the decals tout the national championships by year.
There is 2008 and 2009. And 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Everyone in that camp would like to add a 2015 to the truck before the word Oberto goes away.
The Oberto Co. board of directors announced earlier this year that it was stepping away from sponsoring an unlimited hydroplane.
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For 40 years, Art Oberto has sponsored an unlimited.
Maybe it was done out of some civic consciousness. Maybe it was because he loved hydroplanes in his hometown of Seattle. It was definitely because he saw the value in marketing for his company.
It took Oberto 10 seasons before a boat he sponsored won a race, and it wasn’t until he hooked up with the Miss Madison team in 2000 that consistent success was really found.
But when the board’s decision was announced, it was effective immediately.
Company chairman Art Oberto wasn’t going to let things end that way, so he wrote a personal check to sponsor the team this season.
“He said, ‘How much do you want?” Oberto representative owner Charlie Grooms said. “I said that it was up to him.”
It’s a frustrating thing for Larry Oberto, Art’s son and the sports marketing technical director for Oberto.
He remembers when he had lunch with driver Jimmy Shane for the first time.
Larry gave Shane his personal guarantee that he’d never leave him hanging.
Less than a year later, the board made its announcement. Then Art stepped in.
“I couldn’t afford it, but my dad wasn’t going to let it happen,” Larry said. “That’s the core value that started this company.”
But the end of an era is near.
“With the people who are controlling the budget, and the priorities they have, this isn’t their thing,” Larry said.
There is a movement on Facebook to ask the Oberto Co. to reconsider.
“Officially, they are out,” Grooms said. “But I’m definitely aware of a movement out there by fans and others that would hope for a “relook” at it. But probably not. It’s important to point out that they’ve been phenomenal corporate partners for the past 15 years. They made us champions, and we made them champions. Thanks to Larry, it’s been a great partnership.”
Through all of this, the Oberto team must concentrate on defending its national high-points title and its Gold Cup championship.
“Our goals are in this order: win the national championship, the Gold Cup and Madison race,” Grooms said. “We never want to beat ourselves. And looking back at races we’ve lost, we beat ourselves. Jumping the gun, getting penalized.”
“And I don’t think there is any added pressure for us to repeat as national champs,” he said. “As a team, we take it race by race.”
Grooms’ main concern is finding a new Oberto.
“(Finding a new sponsor) has been my total focus,” Grooms said. “We’ve got a tremendously talented team and, more than that, a tremendously talented young driver.”
Grooms has worked with national sponsors in the past, including DeWalt Tools, Kellogg’s, and Jasper Engines and Transmissions.
“We know how to deliver value,” he said. “We learned from guys like Bernie Little and Steve Woomer. We’re confident we’ll find a partner.”
It’s just tough saying so long to the old partner — for both parties.
“I couldn’t be prouder of leaving a legacy of two companies like Madison and Oberto,” Larry said. “Having a defined common passion is why there are so many titles up there on that truck.”
Might as well add another year to it.