Chairman plans on keeping Unlimited series in Detroit

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jimmy Shane won the 2014 Gold Cup on the Detroit River.

The Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane race, first held on the Detroit River in 1916, has been an important part of the fabric of Detroit's sporting scene, with legendary racers Gar Woods, Bill Muncey and Chip Hanauer building their resumes on the long, demanding course.

In the heyday of the sport in this city, hundreds of thousands of fans would crowd the Detroit River banks on both sides and enjoy a weekend-long party tied in with the thrill of watching unlimited boats race at speeds of 200 mph on the straightaways of the treacherous river course.

The Gold Cup, long considered the sport's Super Bowl or Indianapolis 500 and boasting the oldest active trophy in motorsports, and Detroit have a long history.

But the Gold Cup will not be contested on the Detroit River next summer.

The Detroit River Regatta Association, which has promoted the race, announced on Friday that the Gold Cup will not be in Detroit in 2015, citing lack of sponsorship and dwindling crowds. Instead, the DRRA will host the Festival of Speed, featuring smaller classes of boat racing, Aug. 22-23.

But this may not be the end of the Gold Cup in Detroit, even though the race is expected to be contested in Tri-Cities, Wash., next summer as part of the area's 50th anniversary of boat racing.

H1 Unlimited chairman Steve David said there will be an unlimited race on the Detroit River next summer, during the traditional Detroit race dates in either late June or the second week of July.

"It is still our intention to run the unlimiteds in Detroit," David told The Detroit News in a telephone interview Friday. "Detroit has a 108-year history of racing we don't want to abandon. The unlimiteds are the ones with the history there.

"We look at this as a temporary setback."

David's intention is to make it a trophy race, the President's Cup, which also has a deep history in boat racing dating back to 1926. The race was held on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and the trophy was awarded by the president of the United States.

It is important to maintain a trophy-race even in Detroit, Steve said, to maintain the "panache" of unlimited boat racing here.

"Especially with the resurgence of Detroit," said David, who became H1 chairman two months ago and already has added two new unlimited to the racing roster.

And while the Gold Cup will be absent on the Detroit River next summer, David is not ruling out a return.

"In 2016, we will take a fresh look at Detroit," he said.

With that in mind, David said it is important to race unlimiteds in Detroit in 2015 to maintain public interest, in a sense, out of sight, out of mind.

"I'm afraid if we don't have unlimited in Detroit his year, that fans would not return and this would signal the end of racing in Detroit," said David, who competed 22 times on the Detroit River during his lengthy career. "From the calls I've gotten (Friday) from people in Detroit, they're saying, 'We're with you.' A lot of the businesses who have made it through a tough time in Detroit are with us."

David wants the DRRA's event next August to succeed and hopes the unlimiteds race earlier in the summer will help promote interest in the festival.

But he believes the Detroit River owns a special place in the history of unlimited racing and will not let that go.

"It really is the Indy 500 for unlimiteds," David said. "It would be easy to say, 'We've got a lot of other races,' but Detroit is too important to us. It has too much of a legacy, and we're going to do everything we can to keep that alive."

The Festival of Speed will highlight racing on and off the water during the two-day event, including:

* The Zooomtown 500 will be waged on Michigan's longest, fastest Pinewood derby track. Kids from ages 6 to 60 can compete with classes for everyone.

* Three classes of boats will race in at least 32 events including three classes of racing boats: Grand Prix, H350 Hydroplanes and SST Tunnel Boats.

Grand Prix Hydroplanes are powered by supercharged, big-block V8 engines and can hit speeds of 170 mph. H350 Hydroplanes are also powered by V8 engines and are fast, furious and loud.

SST Tunnel boats will compete in 15 and 20 lap championships.

General admission will be $10 per day; general admission grandstand seats will be priced at just $20.