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Detroit Hydrofest '50-50' to return Aug. 27-29; organizers need more cash

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — It's sink-or-swim time for Detroit Hydrofest.

The high-powered boat races, which have run on the Detroit River since early in the 20th century, are tentatively scheduled to return in 2021, on the weekend of Aug. 27-29.

But despite the continuation of Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers as the title sponsor, race organizers are about $150,000 short in sponsorships with a little over two months until race day. Organizers say they have reached out to potential partners, and will make a final decision by the end of June or early July.

Jimmy Shane won the Gold Cup on the Detroit River in 2019, his fourth Gold Cup title.

In total, it costs about $500,000 to put on Hydrofest, which used to award the prestigious American Power Boat Association Gold Cup.

"Before we made a decision, for the good of the event after 100 years, we wanted to get out there," Mark Weber, president of Detroit Riverfront Events, said, speaking of the sponsorship dilemma.

"Be up front with our situation and let the chips fall where they may."

Detroit Hydrofest, which debuted in 1916 and long has featured some of the best H1 Unlimited hydroplane boats in the sport that can race around the course at speeds of more than 200 mph, was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the state announced last month that outdoor capacity restrictions would be lifted starting June 1, race organizers decided to push forward with plans for 2021. 

The race typically draws around 50,000 on a three-day weekend, though that's an approximate. Much of the viewing areas are free, like at the Detroit Yacht Club, or at Sinbad's, or on Belle Isle.

Canceling last year was "disappointing," Weber said. Canceling a second year could be devastating.

"You always worry about all the momentum," Weber said. "Taking a year off for any event is unique, and a little scary. … But nobody could ever have made up the last 18 months, everything we've gone through."

While the Aug. 27-29 race weekend in Detroit isn't yet listed on the APBA website, Weber said organizers have commitments from at least five of the top racers.

He said it's about "50-50" today, whether the 2021 races will take place on the Detroit River.

He's pleading with anybody interested in sponsorships to reach out to him at mark@detroitboatraces.com, or call the Detroit Boat Races office at (313) 329-8047. Race organizers are open to one sponsor or several sponsors. They have volunteers in place for race weekend; tickets won't go on sale until a decision is made.

"The timing is perfect. People want to come out to a major event, it's outdoors, it's on the Detroit River, gosh, everyone's tired of social-distancing, for lack of a better word," Weber said. "This could be one of the best years we've ever had, but we, as a board of directors, have to be fiscally responsible.

"We're just waiting to pull the 'go' plug or pull the plug."

This isn't the first time Detroit Hydrofest has been in jeopardy because of funding. Organizers had planned to cancel the 2015 running until two major sponsors, GM and the UAW, signed on to salvage the event.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984