The Oh Boy! Oberto Story

In The Beginning: The Oh Boy! Oberto Story

As told by Bob Senior

In 1975, the Oberto Sausage Company sponsored their first unlimited hydroplane. Bob Murphy’s former U-18 Red Ball Express (#6207) became the U-4 Oh Boy! Oberto “Super Salami.” The boat tested on Lake Washington April 15th with “lady driver Pat Ciotta” alongside Bill Wurster.

Chuck Hickling drove in Oberto’s debut at Tri-Cities (Wurster was obligated to drive Sunny Jim Jam, but took over after Seattle). At Phoenix and San Diego the “Salami” was replaced by “Beef Jerky.” Oh Boy! Oberto finished the season in 13th place out of 18 entries. [Oh Boy! Oberto completed only one race in ’ 75, Tri-Cities. It failed to qualify at Seattle and San Diego, and broke down in Phoenix.—Ed.]

Go back a year to 1974, the year of the Gold Cup race in Seattle at Sand Point. Seafair lost their shirt and had absolutely no credit. They could not have charged a roll of scotch tape. Cash on the barrel-head was required. The press told the community that Seafair was broke and on the brink of vanishing.

Art Oberto wrote a letter to the editor of a Seattle newspaper which appeared on the sports page in the spring of 1975. Art wrote, “We have to save the Seafair race. It is for our kids. They are out of school all summer. They hear the roar of the hydros. They jump on their bikes and head for the pits.

“They hang on the fence. They worship the boats and the drivers. They collect the pins. They make scrapbooks. They love the hydros. We have to save the Seafair race; it’s for our kids.”

I was then (and still am) the chairman of the Guided Pit Tours at Seafair. I had lost my ticket-printing sponsor for Pit Tours. I phoned Art Oberto, explained my volunteer job on the race committee, and he agreed to sponsor printing the tickets. This was only a couple of hundred dollars then.

Meanwhile, KIRO-TV 7 gave Seafair a five-hour telethon. This was about early summer of 1975. A street in front of the KIRO studios in Seattle was closed off and all the local hydros were put on display out front. Most of the local hydro owners and drivers appeared on the telethon. It was a huge success, raising $56,000, and gave Seattle’s Seafair Festival a fresh new start. Otherwise, there may have never been another Seafair race.

Art Oberto was there, on TV. One of his Italian business buddies got him to donate $500 on-camera. Bill Wurster (U-18 co-owner) cornered Art over a sandwich and coffee and they cooked up the first Oberto hydro sponsorship.

The following spring, Wayne Cody held his popular evening radio, sports-talk show at Meal Maker’s restaurant in Burien. His topics were pro soccer, Mariners baseball, and hydroplanes. The U-4 Oh Boy! Oberto was on display outside the restaurant and his hydro guests were Bill Wurster and Art Oberto. During the program Wayne Cody asked Art Oberto, “How did you originally decide to sponsor an unlimited hydroplane?”

Art’s answer was, “It’s all Bob Senior’s fault. He got me to sponsor the Pit Tours!”

Fast forward to 2008, thirty-four years later. What a ride! And now a National Championship to boot!

I’m glad that I had a chance to play a role in it. Way back in 1965, I became a stringer for the Madison, Indiana Courier newspaper. I acted as their western unlimited hydroplane reporter, an enjoyable task that continues to this day.

Miss Madison has always had a special place in my heart. So the 2008 Oberto/Madison success is a double delight for me!

~~ UNJ

[Reprinted from Unlimited NewsJournal, January/February 2009]