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Regatta on the Rebound

New president Cole has fresh ideas
for this year’s race format

Committee also plans to hold concert
to help offset deficit

(March 2017) – After two years of bad weather and dwindling crowds, the Madison Regatta committee is working hard to make this year’s event a success, bringing people and dollars to town June 30 - July  2.
“We lost money last year,” said this year’s Regatta President Dan Cole. “High water, heat, rain, you name it, and we have had to deal with it. We did come up short with what we owed H1 Unlimited, but we paid all our local bills.”
Cole paid his own way to San Diego in September to meet with the H1 Unlimited Board of Directors. 
H1 is the American Unlimited Hydroplane racing league that is sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association.
“We have a 63-year relationship,” Cole said. “They wanted to continue our relationship. We talked about different things we could do so the loss of money doesn’t happen again in the future.”
The primary things that can be done are for the local Regatta organization to find new ways to create new revenue streams and cut costs, he said.

Photo courtesy of Chris Denslow

From left, HomeStreet Bank-Miss Madison driver Jimmy Shane and HomeStreet Bank CEO Mark Mason pose with the H1 Unlimited National Point Series award at the series’ annual banquet, held in January in Seattle. Shane also won the Driver of the Year award. The team’s Dan Hoover won crew chief award. And the team won the Sponsor of the Year award and Crew of the Year Award.

“Madison has a long tradition with hydroplane racing. We will be supportive to the extent we can,” said H1 Unlimited Chairman Doug Bernstein. “The good thing is everyone looking to new ideas on how they can use fresh ideas to change their show.”
Bernstein attended the Madison race for 30 years because it is close to his Detroit home.
“People are friendly, but I could do without the humidity,” he said. “Last time I checked, none of us have any control over any of that.”
Cole said, “We came up with the idea to use Madison Bicentennial Park to host a Saturday night concert in connection with the community fireworks display. The hydroplane fan base is getting older. So as an organization, we need to find ways to draw younger people to the sport. That was our greatest rationale for selecting the band we are bringing to Regatta.’
He said that the band they hired, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band of Nashville, Ind., has “a huge cult following. They are an international touring group and are big in Bloomington (Ind.) and Cincinnati.”
“Hydroplane racing has the most loyal fans around, but they are aging.” Bernstein said. “It also hurts because the volunteers are older, too.”
The Madison Regatta committee members say they hope many of the people who come in to see the band will become Regatta fans.
“Maybe they have heard of Regatta,” said Cole, “but haven’t been to the race. So if they see the boats, they may come back the next day to see the race. It is the elusive Millennial dollar that everyone wants but is the hardest to get.”
“Madison issues are no different from any race sites,” said Bernstein. “It is a unique community, but we all have to find innovate ways to attract sponsors and fans, especially younger fans.”

Dan Cole

The committee tried very hard and almost succeeded in getting the Kentucky Headhunters before recruiting Rev Peyton’s Big Damn Band. They only failed because the Headhunters needed a bigger sound system than Regatta had in the budget.
“That goes back to the H1 meetings,” said Cole. “We also decided that we needed to be more fiscally responsible. So we formed a budget committee headed by past president Tim Bipes. We cut the budget every way we could, but there wasn’t much to cut because we have been running lean.”
“We have things that allow us to stay within the budget parameters but still put on a first-class event,” Cole said.
“All our different sites are all doing the same thing,” said Bernstein. “We have to keep the shows fresh.”
Cole also flew to Seattle for the H1 meeting in January, again out of his own pocket.
“We had three different format proposals that were all within the budget for the event,” he said. 
The ideas considered were an eight, six or four-boat race format. In early February, H1 Unlimited agreed to hold a four-boat format, meaning only four boats will travel to Madison this year.
“Four is my favorite, but old fans may not like it,” Cole said. “It is a shorter course that does not go under the bridge. We hope it will give us the fourth fastest hydroplane race on the circuit.”
The four-boat format will have match races with two boats at a time, and then a round robin where everyone races everyone else, one at a time. Then there will be a four-boat final on Sunday. The cost savings is expected to be substantial for the Regatta Committee.
“When the bridge was under construction, the racing was much more competitive,” Cole Said. “For three years, it was the best deck-to-deck racing on the circuit. This is all about putting on a better show.”
Cole said he loves the old course that went under the bridge.
“There is so much disparity between upper and lower boats in the straightaway,” he said. “With the longer straightaway, it is easy for the better boats to pull away. It turns into a parade. On the longer course, you have a battle for third or fourth. I want a battle for first place.”
The consensus from the owners is for the shorter course because it is easier on the equipment. There is also a better chance for the mid-level boat to win on a shorter course.
“It puts more in the hands of the driver and less on the equipment,” Cole said. “It is the same as NASCAR. It gives the middle tier racers a better chance to win and gives the fans a better show.”
When Cole attended the meeting in Seattle, he had a 30-minute meeting with Bernstein.
“It was a very productive and constructive meeting,” Cole recalls. “We saw shortfalls on both sides of the fence. There are things we can do better and things they can do better. At the end of the day, we were assured we would have an agreement in place by Feb. 1.”
Many of the things needed are already under way, such as better communication, a financial plan. “We really need to start marketing yesterday,” said Cole. “And it really helps to know what we are marketing.”
The budget allows that the Regatta feature the Grand Prix West racing series in addition to the Unlimited hydroplanes.
“We are still below the budget for last year when we only had the Unlimiteds,” Cole said. “We need to bring the noise back to the river. Boat racing has been missing that for years. These babies are fast. They hit 175 mph in the straightaway. We need to bring back the roar to the shore.”
Grand Prix West boats raced in Madison two years ago and were a crowd favorite, Cole said. “It was high water that year and only a few of the Unlimited teams wanted to race.”
Another issue the committee hopes GPW will solve is excessive down time. Both classes need an hour to get ready for the next flight because there are fluids to check and batteries to charge.
“Fans say there is too much down time between races,” said Cole. “If we stager unlimited with Grand Prix, that should knock down the down time.”
The committee plans to start at 11 a.m. and go until 4 p.m. That will knock a nine-hour event down to five hours with the same amount of time on the water.
“If we alternate classes to have more activity on the water, it will equate to happier fans,” said Cole. “We need fans to understand that if we don’t evolve, Regatta will go away. My hope is that the old guard fans understand change is a good thing if done properly.”
One problem the Madison Regatta faces is the need for new volunteers.
“Doing new things means we need new blood,” said Cole. “Our meetings are the first Wednesday of each month at the VFW. We meet at 7 p.m., and everyone is welcome.”
The group could use as many as 60 volunteers, he added. Anyone interested in being a Regatta volunteer can attend a meeting or contact Regatta on its Facebook page.

“We like to say sunny and 81, with an 18-foot pool, and we are going to have a great race,” said Cole. “The Kentucky Derby has the reputation of being the fastest two minutes in sports. We are the fastest three minutes in motor sports.”

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