by: Chris Francis Updated:SEATTLE —
Seafair racing is underway on Lake Washington. On Friday evening, the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto Hydro driven by Steve David captured the inside lane for Saturday’s heat races with a qualifying time of 152.229 miles an hour.
Right behind David in the pecking order was Kip Brown in the U-95 Spirit of Qatar and third was Jimmy Shane in the Graham Trucking U-5.
This type of tight competition is just what the Hydro series organizers are hoping for this weekend. They are categorizing Seafair and the rest of the 2013 season as pivotal to the growth of the sport.
That’s because people around the world are watching in record numbers via the internet.
“We have more followers, are gaining more people in the Middle East, and China and places like that than we are in the U.S.,” said Dave Gatti of H1 Unlimited.
That viewership and interest has H1 Unlimited thinking worldwide expansion. They've signed a contract with ESPN global and even Al Jazeera TV repackages their highlights.
“The demand is really there on an international level to create a sport that can compete in regions and then come back to the U.S. for championships and things like that.”
But it all starts with the exposure generated here in Seattle, so says Larry Oberto who sponsors the most successful team on the circuit, the boat that just won the top qualifying spot.
“The Seafair organization and the KIRO programming is the basis for our sponsorship, it's our hometown and I can justify what I do around the circuit based on this weekend,” said Oberto.
Oberto would like to see some changes though. He'd like to see the sport get away from their nonprofit model and come up with a new business plan, one that raises capital to become self-sufficient.
“I can't tell you from where i stand what this sport wants to be and how it wants to be.”
Expansion is good he says but to be sustainable, long term investors are needed and those investors need to see a clear plan.
“What do we do now to get that interest build that interest, and to do that we have to change our platform a little bit.”
For now Oberto and his driver, David, will settle for their fourth straight Seafair championship, and with today’s qualifying run they are well on their way.