1999 Budweiser Thunderfest East

Hydros Welcome New Fans For The Budweiser Thunderfest

The 1999 Ralph’s Unlimited Thunder Tour is proud to head into the second race of the season at a new race site, Barrie, Ontario, Canada.

“We are delighted to bring the Hydros color and excitement to the fans in this new race market,” said Bob Gobrecht, President and CEO of the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association (UHRA).

Here are some things for first time fans to look for at Hydros events:

These Are Big Boats… “One of the first things that fans always comment on is the size of the boats,” said UHRA Commissioner Ken Muscatel. Our hydros are virtually twice the size of other racing vehicles. The boats are 28-30 feet long and weight about 6,300 pounds.

These Are Fast Boats… “We typically run top speeds in the 190 mph plus range,” said Mark Weber, of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, driver of the U-10 York International. “The course conditions will be a big factor in our speeds, but the Hydros world lap record is 172 miles per hour for one lap of the 2.5 mile course in San Diego.”

These Are Beautiful Boats… “There is nothing in motorsports more aesthetically beautiful than an Unlimited hydroplane at speed,” said seven-time UHRA champion Chip Hanauer of Seattle, driver of the Miss PICO.

These Are Top Crews… “We can usually change an engine in the Miss Budweiser in about 14 minutes,” said legendary team owner Bernie Little of Lakeland, Florida. “Our crew can lift the boat from the water to the trailer, changes engines, gears and the aero package, refuel and have the boat back in the water in 25 minutes.”

These are Great Drivers… Chip Hanauer returns to the Hydros in 1999 after a three-year hiatus. Hanauer is second only to the late Bill Muncey in career wins. He is the youngest driver from any form of motorsports ever inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He has won the American Power Boat Association Gold Cup ten times, including one string of seven consecutive years. Miss Budweiser’s Dave Villwock has won the last three Gold Cups. Mark Weber, Steve David, Mike Hanson, Mark Evans, have all posted Hydros victories in recent seasons.

There are No Tires… “Tires are critical to a race car, but we make one small propeller (approximately 16 inch diameter) do all the work that four tires do. The propeller affects the handling, acceleration, top speed and engine RPM of the boat,” says driver Steve David of Pompano Beach, Florida. Propellers are carved from blocks of exceptionally strong stainless steel and can take over 125 hours to machine and polish. “No matter what anyone claims, even if you try to make them exactly identical, no two are exactly alike,” said David.

There are Big Roostertails… “Hydros put literally over a ton of water into the air as they go around the race course,” says Miss Madison driver Todd Yarling. “The propeller is running about 50 percent in the water and 50 percent out of the water and turning anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 revolutions per minute. Every revolution of the propeller throws more water into the air. The roostertails can be nearly 40 feet high and extend over 200 feet behind the boat. You need to be careful not to ride up the roostertail of the boat in front or you or get washed down by all the spray. This is definitely a water sport,” laughs Yarling of Madison, Indiana.

Helicopter Engines… Most of the teams racing on the Ralph’s Unlimited Hydroplane Thunder Tour use surplus turbine engines from Chinook helicopters used during the Vietnam War. “Turbine engines deliver a lot of power in a compact package,” said Nate Brown, driver of the U-8 Llumar Window entry. “We get about 3,000 horsepower from a 700 pound package.”

What’s a Skid Fin ?… “Getting these 6,300 pound Hydros turned around and heading the other direction is not an easy deal, especially when you remember that the race track isn’t banked,” says U-9 driver Mike Hanson. “The skid fin is like a big dagger that sticks down into the water on the left side of the boat. When we get to the turn we pitch the boat sideways and let the fin act as fulcrum or pivot point to help the boat get through the turn. You can see a big second roostertail of spray come up from the side of the boat when the boat is hooked up on the skid fin through the turn.”

How Do You Breathe ?… “Hydros use modified F-16 fighter style canopies to protect the drivers in case of an accident. The drivers use air masks connected to air tanks mounted behind the cockpit,” said veteran driver Jerry Hopp whose son, Greg drives the U-15. In case the boat is upside down or the canopy is blocked or jammed, each boat is fitted with an escape hatch in the bottom of the boat.

(Republished from Hydros™; text and images Hydros™; used by permission)