Going Airborne

Adding canard wings to give
Miss Madison more lift, speed this year

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (July 2003) – Nestled against the foot of the Michigan Hill on the far back side of town from the banks of the Ohio River, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat barn houses a beehive of activity of volunteer crew members working diligently to prepare the community owned Unlimited hydroplane for another racing season.

Eric Bell_Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison

Photo by Don Ward

Eric Bell with the newly remodeled
Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison.

At only 24, Madison native Eric Bell has spent more than half his young life attending to the boat and its many parts and pieces. This season, Bell has been promoted to assistant crew chief to team manager Charlie Grooms. An avid hydroplane fan since he joined the group at age 13, Bell now helps head the effort to put the fastest boat possible in the water this season for driver Steve David.
“We’re all very excited about this season, and we can’t wait to race the boat in front of the hometown fans,” Bell said. “These guys are all volunteers, and to hear the people of Madison cheering us on, that’s what we do this for. It’s just not the same when you’re out on the West Coast at Tri-Cities, and no one is cheering for you.”

Bob Hughes, Charlie Grooms, and Steve David at the 2002 Regatta

Photo by Don Ward

Bob Hughes, Charlie Grooms
and Steve David at the 2002 Regatta.

Bell and his crewmates have been working all winter on the biggest hull upgrade to the boat in six years – adding canard wings across the front end, just behind the nose of the craft to help provide more lift on the water. Getting the boat higher on the water by creating a larger air cushion with the new wings should add speed, said Grooms.
“The idea is to create a larger footprint of the boat’s hull on the water so that more air can be packed in,” Grooms said. “By getting the boat up higher, you can fly it more like an airplane.”
The driver has two left pedals to control the wings – either up or down – to manage the air flow under the boat. Too much air, and the driver can shut it down to avoid a blowover.
“The biggest thing now is to get Steve used to using the pedals and controlling the wings,” Grooms said.
The team hired former Miss Madison pilot Mike Hanson and his brother, Larry, of Seattle to assist in the project. Mike Hanson had driven the boat for a decade prior to joining his current U-9 Jones Racing team. The Hansons spent six weeks in Madison last March to lead the design and installation of the new wings.
“A lot of people out there could have done it, but we went with Mike because of his knowledge of the boat and the technology, and plus Mike was available,” Grooms said. “It isn’t anything proprietary; almost all the turbine boats these days have it. Most boats are being built or modified in this way.”
The need for more speed via the new wings was precipitated by the introduction in 2001 of fuel restrictions of 4.3 gallons per minute imposed on all Unlimited boats by Hydro-Prop Inc., which took over the series ownership that season. Hydro-Prop also raised the minimum boat weight requirement from 6,300 pounds to 6,750 pounds that season in an effort to have a closer weight-to-horsepower ratio. The moves were designed to make the races more competitive and thus more exciting for the fans.
Before the fuel restrictions, the teams tried to gain speed via more horsepower using unlimited fuel combinations; now they have to do it via more lift and by constant adjustments to the propeller’s pitch and rake during race weekends. All boats must used the same sized propeller, with three blades and a maximum 16-inch diameter.
Grooms said the Miss Madison team for two years tried to adjust to the new fuel restrictions without having to cut into the hull of the boat. They tried changing the propeller and adjustments to the gear boxes and gear ratios. This year, with funding from the sponsor, Oh Boy! Oberto Sausage Co. of Seattle, the decision was made to add the canard wings.
“The biggest thing we learned last year was that the hull design had passed us by,” Grooms said. “And with the reduced fuel mandated by Hydro-Prop, it left us in a vulnerable position. After trying everything else, it became apparent that we had to cut up the boat.”
In the course of the project, Grooms’ assistant of 20 years, Pat Harris of Hanover, designed new computer related technology as part of the upgrade.
Grooms said he was pleased so far with the progress of the upgrade. Now it is a matter of tinkering with the propeller settings and getting David some seat time before the racing season begins June 28-29 in Evansville, Ind. The Budweiser Madison Regatta Supported by Belterra Casino Resort is the following weekend, July 4-6.

Steve David

Driver Steve David

Before either race, the Miss Madison team planned to take part in an exhibition run June 24 with three other Unlimiteds on the St. Clair River in St. Clair, Mich. David flew up from Florida and met the team in Michigan to try out the new wing pedals for the first time. He will also get another chance at Evansville prior to racing in front of the hometown fans in Madison.
“Steve’s excited about the changes and I’m sure he’s a little nervous,” Bell said. “It’s almost like he’s learning to drive it all over again.”
Reached in Florida on June 19 prior to his trip to Michigan, David said he was looking forward to trying out the new canard wing pedals during the exhibition in Michigan. It will be his first time driving a hydroplane by the wing. “The main thing is, I don’t want to tear up the equipment for the guys,” David said. “The canard wing gives you more stability when you come off the water, but the concept has only been in existence in hydroplane racing a few years. “It may take some getting used to.”
David cited two other boats, the Miss Emcor and Jone’s U-9, that recently installed the canard wing, and in both cases the learning curve was apparent. “The Miss Emcor was super fast in qualifying, but when it came to racing, it took them a while to get things working smoothly,” David said.
Nevertheless, David says the Miss Madison should enter this season with the most competitive boat ever in terms of depth in equipment. “There could be 10 or 11 boats that could win heats throughout the day, and that will make it more interesting for the fans.” He added that blade thickness could be the only remaining area that Hydro-Prop may consider regulating to ensure parity among the race teams. The more expensive thinner blades, costing up to $10,000 each, provide more speed than the less expensive, thicker ones.
“The frustrating thing for our team last year was that even while running the boat at 100 percent, we felt like a fat horse in a thin horse race (because of the blade differences),” David said. “I think the next thing you’ll see is Hydro-Prop setting down blade restrictions for all the boats.”
David piloted the Oh Boy! O’Berto/Miss Madison to victory at the 2001 Madison Regatta, winning the Indiana Gold Cup for the hometown fans for the first time in 31 years. The victory came at the expense of three other Unlimiteds that were penalized one lap each for jumping the gun at the start of the race.
The following offseason, the sponsor funded renovation of the exterior of the boat’s hull. The crew flipped the boat on its trailer so they could strip the hull down to its bare skin and repaint it. The hull was built in 1988 by Ron Jones Sr., but now the only original parts are the under carriages of the sponsons that run front to rear of the boat. Other adjustments were made to the contour of the sponsons to extend the width between them to allow for more air lift to occur under the boat.
David said winning the Gold Cup “certainly elevated the spirits of the team for awhile, but in this business, it’s always ‘what have you done for me lately.’ The guys are pumped this year, and even though we are not budgeted like the Miss E-Lam Plus or the Bud, we are certainly going to be more competitive.”
David enters his third season at the wheel of the Miss Madison after finishing sixth in points last year. He notched one heat win, a third, fourth and fifth-place finish. The Miss Madison has six career victories, four of them by David, including his historic Gold Cup win.
Oh Boy! O’Berto is sponsoring the boat for all six of the series’ races this year. Owned by the City of Madison and its citizens, the Miss Madison is under the guidance of owner’s representative Bob Hughes of Clifty Engineering Tool & Die Inc. of Madison.
Combined with the new canard wings, David’s experience and a revamped hull, the Miss Madison team enters the 2003 as optimistic as ever to compete as a top contender.

Order Your Regatta Tickets Now
The Madison Regatta's online purchasing section is down. To order tickets, please call the Regatta office for ordering at (812) 265-5000 or email: info@madisonregatta.com. Fax orders to (812) 273-2703. Payment methods include Mastercard, VISA, money orders or personal checks. If you are faxing or emailing an order with a credit card, please include your card number and expiration date. Admission Wristbands: $15 through June 28; $20 thereafter and at the gates through the final heat on Sunday, July 6. The Budweiser Madison Regatta supported by Belterra Casino Resort has a first come, first served seating on the riverbank. Tarp Spaces, RV Parking and VIP Tent Tickets are also available that offer an advantage over the General Seating areas and will enhance your Regatta weekend experience.
Other items for sale include Pit Passes ($20 each), Race Programs ($3) and Regatta Membership ($25 each, which includes Admission Wristband).

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