Setting a Goal

Madison, Ind., group has sights
set on a hydroplane museum

Fundraising effort has begun to create
a museum in Madison

(October 2018)
Read previous Don Ward columns!

Don Ward

(October 2018) – Three years ago, a group of vintage hydroplane enthusiasts in Madison, Ind., formed the “5-to-the-5” vintage hydros club with the specific goal of organizing the Madison Vintage Thunder festival. They formed a 10-member board of directors and gained nonprofit status through Historic Hoosier Hills Resource, Conservation & Development Agency in Versailles, Ind. The agency serves nine southern Indiana counties, including Jefferson.
But the festival was only one of their goals.
Ever since its formation, the group has been slowly working toward creating a hydroplane racing museum somewhere in Madison. They dream of exhibiting their collections of hydroplane racing memorabilia, their own race boats and educating the public about the sport. The museum also would pay tribute to Madison’s history in the sport, said Dave Johnson, a race boat owner, collector and board member of the group.
“It’s moving forward,” he said. “We’ve had all positive feedback to the idea. We want people to know we’re serious. We have several people who say they are willing to help out financially. So now we are wanting to get the word out that we are the real deal.”

File photo by Don Ward

Driver Jack Schafer Jr. is pictured in the vintage Miss U.S., owned by Jay Armstrong of Omaha, Neb.

The idea of creating such a museum has been floating around ever since the movie “Madison” hit the theaters in 2001. In an early scene in the hydroplane movie about Miss Madison driver Jim McCormick’s 1971 Gold Cup victory, McCormick views a group of youngsters taking a guided tour through the local hydroplane racing museum in Madison. The experience inspires him to fight through adversity to achieve his dream of winning the Gold Cup. The tourism office in Madison almost immediately began receiving calls from all around the country from people who wanted to come to Madison to visit the hydroplane racing museum.
Only problem was, there wasn’t one. The museum touted in the movie was fictional.
So that got the wheels turning in many locals’ minds that perhaps creating such a museum would not only serve to promote the legacy of the sport but bring a whole new category of tourists to town.
Johnson, who has perhaps more hydroplane racing memorabilia than anyone else in town, has been the driving force behind this initiative. He has been collecting hydroplane racing related items since childhood – and especially since 1974 – and today has a shop full of photos, buttons, flags, inflatable race boats, driver uniforms, boat parts, trophies and much more.
“I’d like to see something happen in the next few years,” said Johnson, 60. “We’ve been talking to the city and had great reception from the mayor (Damon Welch). It’s just a matter of money and finding the right location. We already have a few people ready to contribute money and resources.”
Recently, the group requested and obtained the services of a professional fundraising consultant to help them step up the level of professionalism toward approaching donors and sponsors. The consultant asked not to be identified for this story but said a “significant” press release regarding the initiative would be coming sometime in October.

File photo by Don Ward

Dave Johnson of Madison, Ind., has a lifetime of racing memorabilia he has collected over the years that would be displayed in a future hydroplane museum.

Meantime, the 5-to-the-5 group has identified several possible locations that would be ideal as a museum site, Johnson said.
“We’re looking at a number of buildings here and there, but there’s nothing in concrete yet,” Johnson said. He added that once a building has been identified as the site, it may help strengthen the fundraising efforts.
One willing contributor is Jay Armstrong of Omaha, Neb. He owns the restored vintage unlimited hydroplane Miss U.S. and brought the boat to Madison last year to run her on the Ohio River as part of the Madison Vintage Thunder festival. In an interview last year, Armstrong said he fully supports the idea of a Hydroplane Museum in Madison and would even contribute a sizeable donation to make it happen.
“Once we get to the point where we are done running our boat, I would consider housing it at such a museum,” said Armstrong, 74. “That would be a fitting place for it because it would be seen by the public and continue to promote the sport.”
Armstrong said he loves Madison and appreciates the community’s history and love for the sport of hydroplane racing. He even helped Johnson scout locations in town on one trip there.
“That’s our goal and intention,” he said. “Whether it happens today, tomorrow or in a few years, we’re going to make it happen.”
Johnson said such a museum would be a great tourism attraction for Madison, given its hydroplane racing heritage. But he added, “Everyone knows museums don’t make a lot of money; they just try to maintain. They exist because of donors and sponsorships. But we believe there’s a lot of interest in a museum like this for Madison.”

Dave Johnson

VisitMadison Inc. Executive Director Tawana Thomas said a hydroplane racing museum would be a great addition to the town’s tourism offerings. “There is so much history in Madison with hydroplane racing and lots of interest in it around the country, so a museum would be a fitting tribute if it were to happen,” she said. “I hope they can make it happen.”
What would have been the third annual Madison Vintage Thunder in late September had to be cancelled a the last minute because of heavy rains that caused the Ohio River to rise to dangerous levels and bring debris. The group requested and received a $3,000 grant from the Jefferson County Board of Tourism during a special meeting held Sept. 13 to help offset the costs they endured in planning this year’s cancelled event.

The 5-to-the-5 group is determined to return next year stronger than ever. And in the meantime, they hope to someday provide a year-round experience for race fans at what they hope will be a future museum dedicated to the sport.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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