In 2022, H1 Unlimited introduced the Showdown as a Saturday race format. How did you like the concept and should H1 Unlimited bring it back for the 2024 season?
Craig Fjarlie (Unlimited News Journal Writer & H1 Unlimited Volunteer)
I think the “match race” showdown format has a place, especially when there is a small turnout of boats. When there are enough boats to have heat sections with at least three boats in each heat, we really don’t need the match race showdown format. If, for example, there are only five boats entered in the race and a heat draw would put three boats in one section and two boats in the other section, having the match race showdown on Saturday as a separate event and the regular race on Sunday with no heat draw fills out the program in a way that is better for spectators. I think the match race showdown should be available as a back-up plan to fill out the program, as opposed to having it automatically scheduled on one day and the regular race the following day. I believe the race committee should have a vote in that decision on race weekend, in addition to owners, officials, and H1 Unlimited board members.
Brad Luce (H1 Unlimited PA Announcer)
I am very passionate about this topic, and feel strongly H1 Unlimited, and the individual race sites, should work together and ABSOLUTELY bring back the Saturday Showdown Race Format.
My reasoning is very simple. I love watching the H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes. But I enjoy watching them run on the water much more than when they sit quietly on their trailers. The Saturday Showdown format provides more racing action and puts more hydroplanes on the water. Period. It really is that simple. At one H1 event in 2023, the traditional Saturday schedule called for a 6-hour break between the end of the morning test session at 10AM, and the first racing action at 4 PM! Fans were upset, and I don’t blame them. They deserved a better show.
Not all H1 Unlimited fans can attend both days of racing on a given weekend. The Saturday Showdown affords those fans only attending one day of the event, with the opportunity to see a complete race format, with a champion crowned and a trophy presentation. Several years ago, Detroit staged the President’s Cup on Saturday and the APBA Gold Cup on Sunday. The rationale was similar.
I think there is a misconception that the Showdown Format was developed because of a low boat count. That simply is not true. It was developed to (A) put more head-to-head racing on the water, (B) build excitement for the fans, and (C) provide additional sponsorship opportunities for both race sites and H1 Unlimited. I am anxious to see a Showdown event including 10 or 12 boats! The prelims would provide non-stop racing action on Saturday, followed later in the day by two each 5 or 6 boat heats, to include a winner-take-all final. Or said another way, MORE RACING!
The race fan of today is different than 20-30 years ago. They want action, and they do not want to wait hours for it to take place. H1 Unlimited recognizes this fact. The Saturday Showdown is an attempt to get more boats on the water and racing. The format further exposes fans to something new and different, without having any effect on the Sunday racing schedule. With more boats and increased competition, I absolutely would like to see it return in 2024. But then, I am a fan of more racing!
The H1 Unlimited mission statement calls for “………being ever mindful of enhancing the fan experience.” The Saturday Showdown format is in full support of that mission statement.
Jeff Morrow (Former Sports Editor of the Tri-City Herald)
I’m not enamored with the Showdown. To me, it’s just a two-boat race that just puts more pressure on the crews to get the boat ready for the real races.
But if the fans like it, then sure, why not?
If there was a way to perhaps go back to one day of racing format, instead of the Saturday-Sunday setup, I’d be for that.
I remember a few years ago, Detroit ran two different races on consecutive days. It allowed for teams to earn more points in a weekend.
If H1 Unlimited can’t get more race sites, this would be a good setup. A few years back, I asked then-Water Follies Event Director Kathy Powell if it was feasible for the Tri-Cities to hold two races in a season. She didn’t see too many obstacles, although the Columbia Cup would be the main race. Perhaps a month or two down the road, add the second race with not as much overhead and make it a one-day event.
But I digress. I like seeing at least four boats (more than that is better) out on the water at the same time. I think a lot of people do.
Andy Muntz (Unlimited News Journal Editor & H1 Unlimited Board Member)
I’ll have to admit that I’m opinionated on this issue. H1 Unlimited is often criticized because the events are too long for many people, especially the young fans upon whom the future of the sport depends. There is too much dead time between heats, they say. And, according to some experts, the issue was also hampering the sport’s ability to sell itself to television networks.
Hydro racing was not alone in this problem. Baseball was also criticized because the games were getting to be too long—too much time between pitches, people said. So, Major League Baseball listened and did something about it. This year they introduced a timer between pitches to speed things up, and it seems to have worked.
Meanwhile, H1 Unlimited also did something to address this issue. The match-race format was not only created to reduce dead time and put more action on the water, but to also provide race fans with differing events during the weekend. There would be action-packed match races on Saturday and then something different on Sunday—a traditional format. Perhaps more of them might be enticed to buy tickets for both days?
The idea was presented to both race site organizers and boat owners after the 2021 season and both said they liked the idea, so the march-race format was implemented the following season. But, then came the critics on Facebook, who apparently longed for the days when the heats were 10 laps long and a three-heat event took all day. Some claimed the idea was only developed at the last minute (which it wasn’t) because there were so few boats in the field (which also wasn’t true). The end result, the race sites lost interest in the match races this year.
So, here’s what would have happened this past season if the match-race format had been used. Let’s use Guntersville and the Tri-Cities as examples.
In Guntersville, the schedule called for H1 Unlimited to have two sections of the first preliminary heat on Saturday—two heats. The rest of the schedule was devoted to the Grand Prix boats and the Pro Lites, which had a hard time running because of the rough water. As a result, much of Saturday afternoon was quiet. But, if the match-race format had been used, the seven qualified hydroplanes would have given the fans on the beach a total of six heats instead of two.
In the Tri-Cities, same thing. They had the two sections of the first preliminary scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday. Again, just two heats. But, if they had used the match-race format, they also would have treated their fans to six heats, instead.
So, please explain to me, why is the match-races format a bad idea? I don’t get it.
David Newton (Publisher of Roostertail Talk Podcast)
Last year H1 Unlimited introduced the showdown format, where on Saturday’s drivers were put into 2 boat heats through an elimination bracket crowning a winner that afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this and if I would care for the change, but after a couple of races I had made up my mind. The Showdown had a place in H1 Unlimited racing and it needed to stay.
I know many did not care for this format, but this is great if you look at it from the perspective of the average fan. In all reality, the unlimited hydroplanes are not on the water that much. They usually have 3 rounds of heats and a final heat. If you add in the showdown, boats are on the water double or triple the timeframe than an average round of heats. Last year I remembered watching the Seafair Showdown and talking with some fans. The people I talked to were average fans, they had been to races before but did not follow the series that closely. They loved seeing the Showdown as it showcased boats similar in speeds with 2 laps of deck-to-deck racing. The close racing in a short burst helps fans that don’t know the rules be more involved and understand what is happening on the water.
Although I am in favor of the Showdown, in my opinion it should not count the same as a race victory for H1 Unlimited drivers. It should be held in a different category than winning a regatta as it takes far less to win a Showdown than an entire Regatta.
Personally, I would like to see Showdowns be brought back next year. If you look at other professional racing series, they have had to adapt to the times to make racing more interesting for the fans. NASCAR has made some drastic changes over the years, including the playoff system and the competition caution flags to name a few. NASCAR knows they need to change their product for the fans to keep it more exciting and relevant in today’s world. I am hopeful that H1 Unlimited can continue to try different ideas (like the showdown) to bring more attention to the sport and draw more fans in!