1987 Budweiser's Thunder on the Ohio

Sleek hydroplanes touted as 200-mph floating billboards

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — They may not look like it while skittering across the water at nearly 200 mph, but the sleek hydroplanes in races like this weekend’s Thunder on the Ohio are advertising billboards in the eyes of their sponsors.

"When you figure that you can get a double-page color spread and an eight-page article in the Popular Mechanics October issue, you’re not doing too bad," said Bonnie Anderson, spokeswoman for the Miss Budweiser, champion at last year’s Thunder and at Miami two weeks ago.

"In (advertising) terms of cost-per-impression we do very well."

All but one of the 10 boats entered in Sunday’s $121,000 race have sponsors. Still waiting to hear the ring of the endorsement cash register is Al Thoreson, part owner, chief mechanic and chief salesman for the Thor Racing Team.

"It just takes a lot of negotiating," said Thoreson on Wednesday. "People don’t get interested until just before the race, and by then it's usually too late."

Thoreson, of Snohomish, Wash., said he has made several presentations this week to Evansville companies that are considering his $5,000 minimum for partial sponsorship of the boat.

But he said the principle challenge remains earning a spot in the race during qualifications Friday and Saturday.

"I think our biggest deal here is to keep the boat qualified, to show people we can give them their money’s worth."

A year on the unlimited hydroplane circuit for owners of the dominant turbine-powered craft can easily cost over half a million dollars.

To field a boat like Thoreson’s, which uses a piston engine from a World War II P-38 fighter, it’s less expensive, in the range of $200,000.

THUNDER WINNERS EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Winners of the Thunder on the Ohio for unlimited hydroplanes, listing driver, boat and average winning speed in miles per hour:

1979 -- Bill Muncey, Atlas Van Lines, 104.742

1980 -- Dean Chenoweth, Miss Budweiser, 117.624

1981 -- Bill Muncey, Atlas Van Lines, 112.633

1982 -- Chip Hanauer, Atlas Van Lines, 115.960

1983 -- Chip Hanauer, Atlas Van Lines, 118.507

1984 -- Jim Kropfeld, Miss Budweiser, 108.560

1985 -- Chip Hanauer, Miller American, 122.318

1986 -- Jim Kropfeld, Miss Budweiser Turbine, 122.393


(Reprinted from the Associated Press, June 25, 1987)