1985 Budweiser Thunder-on-the-Ohio

Thunder On Ohio Lacks Participants

The Associated Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Fewer boats will compete in the Thunder on the Ohio hydroplane race this year, a decrease some drivers blame on the need for rich corporate sponsors many cannot find.

Eight boats are expected for the seventh annual regatta Sunday, down from the dozen that showed up last year.

Once a sport of backyard mechanics, unlimited hydroplane racing now requires a budget of around $250,000 for the 10-race circuit—not including equipment, which runs $40,000 or more for a hull and $25,000 and up for engines.

To meet that expense, crews must find corporate sponsors, and lately there have not been enough interested companies to go around.

“If we had a sponsor to get us going, there’s no doubt we would make the field," said Ed Cooper Jr., a hydroplane builder from Evansville who plans to sit out the race for lack of money.

Registration and insurance fees for just the one race total $7,000, Cooper said.

“Guys with the most money go the fastest,” said Scott Pierce, who drives the Executone Telephones boat. “That’s true of the Indy 500, stock car racing and horse racing. It’s also true in our sport.”

The sport lost Its most generous sponsor at the close of last year’s season when Atlas Van Lines’ new owners announced they were getting out of racing.

The Tosti Asti wine company and Squire Shop clothing stores were two more big sponsors to quit the sport last year.

The one new major sponsor this year is the 7-Eleven convenience stores, whose turbine boat piloted by veteran Steve Reynolds won the Madison Regatta in Madison, Ind., last week.

“They’re the type of sponsor that’s a great addition to the sport,” said Scott Smith, director of marketing for the Unlimited Racing Commission.

In hopes of luring new sponsors to the sport, Smith is bringing officials from two unidentified companies into Evansville this weekend to see firsthand the exposure their boats could receive.

“The sport is a tremendous buy” for advertisers, said Reynolds who helped sell 7-Eleven on the idea of sponsoring a team. “We have a new TV contract with ESPN. Each race is aired four to five times. The exposure is great from our standpoint.”

(Reprinted from the Associated Press, July 11, 1985)