The man who brought hydroplane racing back to Lake Coeur d’Alene paused on the shoreline Sunday afternoon and smiled. And he hasn’t done a lot of that – pause or smile – in recent months.
“Without a doubt I think it’s been my single largest contribution of my time spent here,” Doug Miller said over the roar of the final Grand Prix heat.
He’s ready for more, too. After a successful revival of the Diamond Cup 45 years after it vanished, Miller is confident hydroplane racing is back to stay in the Lake City, and he looks forward to continuing as president of the Diamond Cup Regatta.
“I’d like to do a couple more years,” he said. “I’m 62. It takes the energy of people in their 30s. It really does.”
For Miller and a small army of sponsors and volunteers, establishing what they hope is a new Labor Day weekend tradition in the Inland Northwest was a gamble and a chore. They labored to overcome financial shortfalls, leadership turnover, venue and parking challenges, and the legacy of a mixed record on hydroplanes in Coeur d’Alene.
All the hand-wringing and doubts seemed to dissolve this weekend like the spray of a rooster tail on the final turn.
“In one word: stunned,” said Charlie Grooms, team manager with the popular Oh Boy! Oberto crew. Diamond Cup organizers did their homework and gave the race teams everything they needed to focus on racing, he said.
“From a racing perspective and a team perspective it has been stunning to see what they’ve done,” Grooms said.
Matthew Pangle, of Coeur d’Alene, bought a weekend ticket package for himself and his 9-year-old son, Branden, who collected driver autographs and photos on Saturday.
“It’s nice to see they finally came through and made it happen,” Pangle said Sunday. “It’s a nice family event.”
He said he’d prefer the course be near City Beach and Tubbs Hills, where races were held from 1958 to 1968. A voter-approved city ordinance, however, prohibits hydroplane racing there.
Vonnie Satchwell and Wendell Essley, a Post Falls couple who remember watching the races here in the ’60s, said they prefer the new venue along Silver Beach and East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive.
They also enjoyed seeing the vintage-class boats back on the water after all these years. “They’re good and noisy,” Satchwell said, laughing.
“We’re already talking about coming back” next summer, Essley added.
Crowd control on water and land was a big concern headed into the weekend. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office made just one arrest for operating a boat under the influence, spokesman Lt. Stu Miller said.
“The biggest issue was keeping the spectators that didn’t pay for a log boom pass back the required distance,” Miller said. “For the most part the spectators were very good.”
Doug Miller commended his crew for ironing out wrinkles as they appeared.
“We’ve learned immense amounts each day, from Thursday to Friday to yesterday, knowing each day the momentum and the crowds would grow,” he said Sunday.
Ted Johnson, who describes himself as a diehard hydroplane fan going back 40 years, came from Camano Island, Wash., to watch the action.
“For a first-time event, they’ve done really well,” Johnson said.