The enthusiasm for bringing hydroplane racing back to Lake Coeur d’Alene after a 45-year absence will be revealed by ticket sales for the Diamond Cup Regatta on Labor Day weekend.
Tickets go on sale Friday, and organizers hope the high-speed sport draws a crowd of more than 50,000 over two days of racing.
The world’s fastest boats last raced near City Beach and Tubbs Hill in 1968. Previous attempts to bring them back met with public resistance, and in 1996 city voters approved an initiative banning hydro races along city limits.
Diamond Cup officials have obtained permits from Kootenai County and the state to stage the races outside the city, along Silver Beach east of the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.
Bleachers, food and merchandise vendors and restrooms will be set up along a 2.2-mile stretch of Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive and the North Idaho Centennial Trail, said Doug Miller, president of Coeur d’Alene Diamond Cup Regatta Inc. The course will take racers within 400 feet of shore.
“On land there really isn’t a bad seat in the house,” said Miller, a racing fan who owns a commercial lighting company. “It truly is a spectacle.”
Spectators also will be able to purchase viewing spots along log booms on the water west of the race course, he said.
The H1 Unlimited Series recently added the Diamond Cup to its summer schedule, which also includes races in Kennewick and Seattle. The Diamond Cup will be the only course on the H1 circuit with seven lanes.
“When you look at the resources we have with the lake, H1 is really looking for this race and this venue to be their premier event on their schedule in the United States,” Miller said.
Between 32 and 36 race teams are expected to take part. The races will feature two classes of closed-cockpit boats: H1 Unlimited, the world’s fastest at speeds of about 220 mph; and Grand Prix West.
In addition, two classes of open-cockpit boats – Vintage Unlimited and Vintage Limited – will appear for exhibitions. Those are the type that raced on the lake between 1958 and 1968, but for safety reasons they no longer are used in racing.
Spectators can check out the boats free of charge during testing and qualifying runs Aug. 30. Races are scheduled for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Heats will be three laps and final races will be five laps. Each lap is two miles.
Organizers had wanted to revive local racing last summer but couldn’t secure sponsorships in time. The group said it now has commitments for more than half the $400,000 needed to move forward with this year’s event. Title and primary sponsors should be ready to announce soon, Miller said.
“We have been very pleased with the negotiations and talks that we’re in the process of right now with national, regional and local companies,” he said.
The races will be aired and streamed online live by SWX, the sports and weather channel operated by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Diamond Cup Regatta is working with state and local officials to plan the hydro races, including the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department and its marine division, Idaho Transportation Department, Idaho Parks and Recreation Department, Idaho State Police, Kootenai County Fire & Rescue and the city of Coeur d’Alene. Parking will be provided at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, and buses will shuttle spectators to the shore.
“They really have approached this with a can-do attitude to make this happen,” Miller said.
The nonprofit group also plans to recruit about 250 volunteers for the event.
The Diamond Cup Regatta also will bring on new members of its board of directors soon, Miller said. Four board members recently departed, but Miller downplayed the exodus, saying the turnover was expected and not a sign of trouble. The new board will have seven to nine members, he added.
“This has been a lot of work,” he said of the event planning. “Primarily it boils down to a commitment to the brand and the logo. A couple of us have strongly made that commitment to work solely on the focus of the Diamond Cup brand and logo and the promotion of it with the event.”
The races drew large crowds in the 1950s and ’60s but were marred by underage drinking, fights, rioting and arrests from 1961-1964.
Ultimately, waning enthusiasm and financial losses ended the run after the 1968 event.
Miller, who remembers watching the hydro races as a boy growing up in Coeur d’Alene, said much has changed in the sport and the community. Even since the attempt to reintroduce the races 17 years ago, hydro racing has grown in popularity and professionalism and has the potential to bring a lot of business to the regional economy, he said.
There will be no alcohol sold in the spectator areas, he added. “The focus is really on it being a family-friendly event.”