Changes and additions to this year’s Hydros for Heroes prompted the theme “History in the Making.”
The hydroplanes will return to Oak Harbor Bay for the fourth consecutive year Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 19 and 20. The boats will compete 12:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday and 12:30-5 p.m. Sunday.
The racing will enter the event’s history book with the inclusion of Grand Prix boats. For the first time the big boats — second only in size to the unlimited class — will scream across the 1.25-mile Oak Harbor course, reaching 150 mph from a standing start.
It will also be a points race for the first time. In the past, the Oak Harbor races were only exhibitions.
“Oak Harbor has never seen this before,” race director Jim Woessner said. “It will be all-out racing with money on the line.”
Drivers will earn prizes and points toward the national championship, and it will be one of the few opportunities for spectators to watch the Grand Prix boats race in the Northwest this season.
For the tunnel hull classification, there will be more than money on the line. Hydros for Heroes is the tunnel boats’ official North American Championship race.
In all, the Oak Harbor event will include eight boat classifications but will not include the smaller boats this year.
The Grand Prix class will be the main event and feature four-boat heat races with possibly five or six boats in the final, according to race owner Craig McKenzie.
“Whatever boats are left — which ones that haven’t blown up — will be in the final,” he said.
Among the drivers this year will be J. Michael Kelly and the father-son duo of Jerry and Greg Hopp; all have experience on the unlimited boat circuit, the major leagues of boat racing.
McKenzie took over ownership and financial responsibility of the event last year and christened it Hydros for Heroes to honor local heroes, such as military personnel, police officers, firefighters and school teachers.
McKenzie noted, however, that everyone involved in the race — the drivers, fans, sponsors and volunteers — is a hero for helping make this community event successful.
Proceeds go to Rotary Club of Oak Harbor’s charitable works, including the Food for Kids Backpack Program.
Last year, Hydros for Heroes netted nearly $24,000.
Hydros for Heroes is an offshoot of Homes for Heroes.
In 2016, the Craig McKenzie Team Foundation of Keller Williams Whidbey Realty raised $161,000 for the Homes for Heroes program, the sixth highest total of any agency in the United States. So far this year, the team has generated $156,000, which ranks fourth nationally.
“Everything we do, including the hydros, is always with the win-win mindset,” McKenzie said. “It is good for all those involved.”
Ready for 2017
McKenzie and Woessner both laughed when asked if everything was falling into place for this year’s hydro races.
“It’s organized chaos; there are so many moving parts,” McKenzie said.
Those parts meshed last year. Three racing teams stopped by McKenzie’s office on their way out of town to thank him for hosting such a well organized event.
“We heard the good word spread all the way to Detroit (one of the centers for hydroplane racing),” Woessner said.
Many of the changes for this year’s event were made with the spectator in mind.
The races are free, but for a fee fans can upgrade their viewing experience by choosing from three VIP opportunities — viewing from yachts with food and refreshments provided, from pavilions at the Oak Harbor Marina F Dock with food and drink provided and from a covered beer garden near the pits on Flintstone Freeway, with seat service.
Half of F Dock will be open for free viewing, McKenzie said, but there is a limit of 600 spectators because of space.
Spaces will also be rented along Pioneer Square for RV parking.
A bounce house will be available for kids, and the youngsters will receive a free hat while supplies last.
The U.S. Army will provide its STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Asset Experience. The exhibit is interactive and allows visitors to experience military scenarios.
The public is invited to the drivers’ welcoming dinner from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Louie G’s, where an $8 all-you-can eat pizza meal will be served. The boats will be on display for free viewing.
Hydros for Heroes could use more volunteers, McKenzie said, and a few sponsorship opportunities are still available.
Volunteers will be treated to a barbecue meal cooked by Scott Fraser of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway.
For more information, visit the race’s website: www.hydroforheroes.com