The following is a statement to all members of the H1 Unlimited family from Tim Austin, chair of the H1 Unlimited Board of Directors. We thought you also might find it of interest.
The 2023 season is at hand, and things are looking good for an excellent H1 Unlimited Racing Series this summer. Much of that promise comes thanks to the hard work of many people, such as the owners, drivers, crew members, race-site organizers, and H1 staff people who have spent countless hours during the off season planning for an improved racing series.
There are signs that this sport has a bright future. We saw a growing interest in holding the APBA Gold Cup from among the organizations that host our events. We were thrilled to award the prestigious race to Seattle, who hasn’t hosted the race in 38 years. What’s more, we are also seeing more communities express an interest in holding unlimited races in the future
This optimism is especially remarkable considering where this sport stood only six years ago. It’s also impressive given the fact that we spent two of those six years dealing with the severe challenge of COVID.
Looking back, it’s not an exaggeration to say that when the 2017 season ended, this sport found itself at a crossroads and in a critical state. If it had been a patient in a hospital, it would have been on life support in the intensive-care unit.
Coming off that year’s four-race season (five, if you count the two trophies awarded at Detroit), the sport no longer had a functioning board of directors, its chairman had resigned, and 13 of its 14 operating subcommittees had been disbanded. The American Boat Racing Association, the formal name of the non-profit organization that governs the sport, had been administratively dissolved by the State of Washington for failing to follow simple administrative procedures.
Closer to the action on the racecourse, a project to restructure the rule book was suspended and an incomplete rule book was mistakenly adopted for the 2018 season. Contracts with race sites were being consummated in the pit area on the day of the race and relationships with many of the race-site officials were broken. In short, the sport’s future did not look promising.
As the 2018 season approached, the three remaining members of the board decided to reach out to corporate legal counsel to re-establish the organization with the state. New by-laws were established that reconstituted a more efficient board of directors of only five to seven members, rather than 13, and established only two operating subcommittees, rather than 14. The organization also adopted its first “conflict of interest” policy to assure that board members would look out for the best interest of the sport, and not of themselves.
Then a search was conducted to find people to serve on the new board. Members were no longer chosen only from the pool of owners, race sites, promoters, or sponsors. Instead, candidates were selected who not only had a thorough understanding of the sport, but who also brought other skills or talents to the table—media, marketing, public relations, sponsorship development, and legal, contractual, or licensing expertise.
The new board was developed so that board members decided the organization’s mission, strategies, goals, and provided oversight and advice for H1 administration and staff. Under the board’s direction, the Rules and Competition Committee was re-established, and the entire H1 rule book was overhauled. The number and types of penalties was reduced and modern technology incorporated into the sport to more quickly confirm race results.
The board also did away with the idea of having a single person—an executive director, commissioner, or czar—to oversee the entire operation of the sport. As the chair of the board of directors, my job is just as the title says—I run the board meetings. H1 has instead enlisted the services of seasoned APBA veterans to manage the day-to-day and race-day operations of the sport.
These changes have made a difference, but it has been a slow process. We were emerging from a hole that was very deep, and then a major setback happened when COVID came along. An entire season was lost, along with the revenue that we and the race site organizations depend upon to remain in operation. But now, finally, things have started to turn around. There is new interest in this sport, attendance has increased, the boat count is climbing, and our events feature more highly competitive deck-to-deck racing.
There are also better things ahead. Several communities have expressed serious interest in hosting races in the future. A few may join the series as early as next year. Included is the very real possibility of returning to Detroit. A date for that event in 2024 has already been set, in fact.
Meanwhile, a new committee of H1 staff members has been working through the off-season to focus on media and marketing issues. They are improving the sport’s social media presence, are working on streaming strategies, and H1 Unlimited now has an exciting new website. Another committee was created to identify and prioritize H1’s current material deficiencies and make recommendations on improvements for future racing seasons.
All of the above is being done in a manner that is consistent with the Mission Statement adopted by the board: “To maintain, improve and expand the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing, while being ever mindful of enhancing the fan experience.”
So, thank you for the many things that you are doing to enhance that fan experience. Your hard work is showing. Thanks to you, that patient, in such bad shape only six years ago, now seems to be on the road to a full recovery, and our sport’s future is looking bright.