Michigan drivers Andrew Tate, Donny Allen lifelong fans of Detroit River races

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Andrew Tate

Though the variety of entertainment will be slightly scaled back at this weekend’s Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Hydrofest, there will be no shortage of excitement.

In fact, the decision to cut some live music acts and other attractions near the Detroit River racecourse was made in an effort to amp up the energy. Event organizers this year even tightened the window of races, in hopes that condensing the action would make attending the event more suitable for families.

Still, from an assortment of food trucks to the world’s fastest auto-powered hydroplanes ripping up every unpredictable wave that Belle Isle’s waters have to offer on Saturday and Sunday, there’s something for everybody.

For first-time attendees, the wide range of activities can be overwhelming. Michigan natives Andrew Tate and Donny Allen, who will race in the H350 Class this weekend, spoke to The Detroit News Thursday about what makes the event special, and how to get the most out of it.

For starters, Allen, 34, recommends adding a personal touch to the outing. The pits will be accessible from the time gates open at 8 a.m. and remain open throughout the day. At 11 a.m., the pit area will play host to a meet-and-greet and autograph session. Races are expected to run from approximately noon-4:30 p.m. on both days with a race beginning every 10-15 minutes.

“I would always advise people to try to get into the pits,” said Allen, who is from Grosse Pointe. “Try to meet a racer and really connect with them. It makes it a lot more enjoyable, because you’ve got somebody to root for, somebody to pull for.”

Andrew Tate won the Gold Cup on the Detroit River last year.

And for those who simply have a keen interest in high-powered machines, the pits also are the place to be.

Getting up close and personal is what gave Tate, 30, a fourth-generation hydroplane racer, and Allen the itch to pursue the sport seriously. But of course, anyone who has the chance to catch a race on the Detroit River is a little spoiled. Allen said the Detroit racecourse’s grandstand is a seat that can’t be found “in many other places around the world.”

“Sitting in the grandstands right across from the Roostertail turn, you don’t get a racing experience much closer than that,” Allen said.

“It really just kind of takes your breath away. Even as a racer myself, it’s a pretty powerful thing to literally feel the mist from a rooster tail landing on you while you’re sitting in a corner watching the race go.”

But it’s not just the position of seating that makes the course in Detroit unique. Its reputation for unpredictable and exciting conditions is one of many factors that’s led to the Detroit River playing host to the Gold Cup, the Indianapolis 500 of unlimited hydroplane boat racing, 30 times, including last year.

“It’s definitely an unforgiving racecourse,” said Tate, who is from Walled Lake, “so there’s always action. The racecourse itself in Detroit presents some of the most exciting racing that there is in the world.”

For Allen and Tate, though, the boat races make up only a fraction of their fond recollections of attending the event as children. Outside of watching his dad race, Tate said that the longest standing memory he has of being at the event was “the sense of community and family.” Both racers encouraged parents to get their kids to as many attractions as possible.

“As a kid, you focus on a lot of the other stuff, a lot of the tents and the games that would be going on inside, the concession stands,” Allen said. “Silly stuff in a lot of ways, but there’s more to it than just boat races.”

Day tickets are $10 for general admission. Grandstand tickets are $20 for Saturday, $25 on Sunday and $40 for the weekend. Premium ticket experiences range from $50-200. 

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Hydrofest

When: Saturday and Sunday, gates open at 8 a.m. and racing ends about 4:30 p.m.

Sunday’s finals: H350, 3:40 p.m.; Grand Prix, 4:20 p.m.

Where: Detroit River

Tickets: detroitboatraces.com or (313) 329-8047