Innovation has played an integral part throughout the sport’s history. In your opinion, which creative designs have made the largest impact in H1 Unlimited racing today?
Craig Fjarlie (Unlimited News Journal Writer & H1 Unlimited Volunteer)
In the years since World War II, there have been a number of significant innovations that made Unlimited racing what it is today. Among the innovations were adapting piston aircraft engines to hydroplane racing; development of the air suspension, prop-riding, three-point hydroplane; adding horizontal stabilizers to boats; the aerodynamically recessed bow, and the switch to turbine power.
The most important development has been the enclosed cockpit. There was trial and error and a learning curve, but now we can be certain that the enclosed cockpit with all its associated safety features has saved lives and in reality, prevented Unlimited racing from killing itself off with fatal accidents. The concept has been adopted by other classes of boat racing and has proven itself time and again as the most significant innovation in racing history.
Jeff Morrow (Former Sports Editor of the Tri-City Herald)
If we’re talking about changes in the boats, this one is easy for me. It has to be the enclosed cockpit.
For decades, drivers raced in an open cockpit. And sadly, too many of them died in accidents. But when the enclosed cockpit was created, the number of driver deaths dropped precipitously. Unlimited hydroplane driving is still a dangerous sport. But needless deaths and injuries have dwindled with the invention of the enclosed cockpit.
Andy Muntz (Unlimited News Journal Editor & H1 Unlimited Board Member)
No creative design idea has had as great an impact on the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing as that given credit to Ted Jones in 1950—the three-point prop rider. Today, more than seven decades later, every innovation in hull design that has come since has been a refinement of that basic concept. But, during those years, some of those refinements have had a dramatic impact. I’d put the development of the current skid fin technology at the top of that list. It is why lap speeds are so much faster than they used to be. But also there to be considered were the innovations that shifted the boat’s aerodynamic lift more toward the stern, wider transoms, cabovers, wings, CNC propellers, and fully articulated canards.
David Newton (Publisher of Roostertail Talk Podcast)
Unlimited Hydroplane racing has thrived on a continued evolution of design. The boats that race today are drastically different than those of 30 or 50 plus years ago. Fans most notably saw changes occur in the 80s and 90s as there was big money in the sport chasing different ways to make their hydroplane faster. The changes to the hulls in most recent years have been very subtle; changes to the design of the bottom, sponson angles, internal gear, etc.
With all of that to consider one innovation in the sport has had the biggest impact: the enclosed canopy. It has been around for 38 years now (they were first installed on Bernie Little’s Miss Budweiser in 1985) but enclosed canopies have been saving lives ever since then. Since making them mandatory in the sport in 1989, all unlimited hydroplanes have enclosed their drivers in a canopy system ever since. The designs have been improved upon since then with more reinforcement and an eggshell back to help with the hydraulic effect on impact.
Since 1985 the sport has only lost 1 driver to a hydroplane crash. Before than drivers died all too often in their chase of victory. With an advancement of enclosed canopies saving so many lives, how could you argue of a better advancement in the sport?