The roar of hydroplanes will be heard again on Lake Coeur d’Alene this summer with a return to racing 44 years after the popular sport there ended.
“We will become the No. 1 race in the United States,” organizer Dennis Wheeler predicted today.
The hydro races are planned southeast of downtown as part of the Diamond Cup Regatta during Labor Day weekend. This year’s event will feature sanctioned Grand Prix West competitions, with an unlimited class exhibition race and plans for a sanctioned unlimited class race in 2013.
This year’s event, including spectator seating, will be just outside city limits, near Silver Beach. Recalling drunken riots after races in the early 1960s, city voters twice have said they no longer want hydroplane racing in Coeur d’Alene.
The new course for the boats, which reach speeds of 200 mph, will extend south from the Silver Beach area. Spectators will be able to line up along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive and the Centennial Trail, outside the city’s jurisdiction.
Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson this week signed a permit approving the event.
Hydroplane races drew huge crowds to Coeur d’Alene 10 times in the 1950s and ’60s. The original three-mile Diamond Cup course took racers past spectators gathered along City Beach and Independence Point and perched on Tubbs Hill in downtown.
Underage drinking, fights, rioting and arrests marred the races from 1961-1964. But ultimately waning enthusiasm and financial losses ended the run, with the final race held in 1968.
Coeur d’Alene Resort developer Duane Hagadone hoped to revive the Diamond Cup in 1985, with the support of influential hydro owner Bernie Little. The issue was put on the ballot as an advisory vote, and 74 percent of Coeur d’Alene voters said they didn’t want the races to return.
Hydroplane racing promoters tried to revive racing again in 1996, but city voters endorsed an initiative that essentially banned unlimited class hydroplane racing from Lake Coeur d’Alene. An opposition group formed under the name of Protect Our Lakes Association to put the initiative on the ballot.
Undaunted, enthusiasts in recent years have been working to reintroduce hydroplanes, starting with vintage boat displays and demonstrations on the lake the past few summers. This year’s race would be a modest return, perhaps attracting a crowd of a few thousand.
But organizers envision it growing into an unlimited hydroplane race by 2013, with spectators possibly exceeding 100,000. That would put an economic punctuation mark on the end of the Lake City’s summer; Labor Day weekend now is a relatively quiet time in Coeur d’Alene, which draws big crowds earlier in the summer for events such as the Ironman triathlon, a Fourth of July parade and fireworks show, and Street Fair/Art on the Green.
The Diamond Cup also would complement the other major Northwest hydroplane races: the Columbia Cup in late July on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities, and Seafair in early August on Lake Washington in Seattle.
At full speed hydros fly across the lake with only the propeller and two other points on the hull touching the water.