Kelowna Hydro Consortium Ready for First Race [1997]

By this time next year, a Kelowna-based hydroplane might be challenging for the Thunderboat championship.

The Kelowna Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association is building a boat to compete with the Bernie Littles and Fred Lelands of the UHRA circuit.

"We'll have a boat in the water and be testing it by the end of the year," said KUHA member Jay Logie, who works in the structural overhaul field at Kelowna Flightcraft. "We'll have it tested and ready to race by April of next year."

Kelowna racing fans won't have to wait until next year to scream their support for a local entry. The KUHA, with the help and money of sponsors, have leased a boat for the Molson Dry Thunderfest on Okanagan Lake Aug. 1-3.

Miss Molson Dry will fight for the title along side Little's Miss Budweiser and the rest of the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association entries. Miss Molson Dry is the U-8 hydroplane, owned by Wurster Racing of Seattle. The boat will be piloted this weekend in Tri-Cities and on Okanagan Lake by driver and crew chief John Watkins.

Molson, together with Kelowna Flightcraft and Campion Marine, will sponsor the Miss Molson Dry boat.

"We're very pleased to sponsor this enthusiastic local team," said Blair Shier, Western Canada president of Molson Breweries. "Kelowna and area residents have been fabulous hosts for this event, and it's great to be able to show our appreciation by supporting the KUHA entry."

UHRA communications director J. Michael Kenyon said the U-8 race team has always been competitive.

"We're glad to see Wurster and his boys back in action, especially with such a dynamic sponsor as Molson in their camp," said Kenyon. "Don't be surprised if they team raises a few eyebrows with its performance in the Molson Dry Thunderfest."

Logie wouldn't say how much the KUHA is spending on the leased ride this year, but it's more than $10,000.

In 144 races since 1976, the U-8 race team has won five, finished second 20 times and third another 32 times. Watkins qualified as a driver last year.

He easily met the required minimum of 15 laps, of which at least 10 must be run at speeds of more than 130 miles an hour.

The non-profit KUHA has 50 members who volunteer their time to develop the boat they plan to race next year. Logie said the crew has already put in 7,000 hours of work, trying to get the first Canadian boat on this circuit in 35 years.

To get the tools and build a hull for a hydroplane costs about $1 million. The turbine engines cost between $5,000-$50,0000. A yearly budget for a team on the UHRA circuit is between $500,000-$4 million.

The KUHA is building the local boat so a dual cockpit can be attached to the hull so a driver can train and locals can pay for rides on the boats that can reach speeds of more than 330 kilometres an hour.

Thunderfest organizer Phil DuMoulin, president of Unlimited Event Management, said having a local boat on the UHRA circuit may increase the popularity of the sport, much like Indy's popularity surge with the success of Canadian drivers like Paul Tracy and Greg Moore.

"It's great to have a local boat," DuMoulin. "If we had a Canadian driver, that would take hydroplane racing into more of the spotlight."

Logie said the KUHA is seeking sponsors so it can race its boat on the circuit next season. Local racing fans can get involved in the KUHA's dream by being part of the team's fan club.

You can also be part of the pit crew for Miss Molson Dry Aug. 1-3 by signing up the most people for the KUHA fan club.

Forms are available at Speedpro Signs, Acklin's, Price and Markle and the Western Star dealership.

(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, Wednesday, July 23, 1997)