Hydro racer undaunted by cancer

A world record holder and cancer survivor will be racing in Oak Harbor’s Hydros for Heroes this year.

A world record holder and cancer survivor will be racing in Oak Harbor’s Hydros for Heroes event this year.

Hydros for Heroes is an annual hydroplane race. This year it is taking place from Aug. 19-21. Spectators can watch from Bayshore Drive and Pioneer Way.

One of the racers who will be participating, Steve Huff, holds 20 national and world records in various disciplines of racing, including driving the first electric car over 200 miles per hour in a quarter mile.

Huff was raised on Whidbey Island and graduated from South Whidbey High School. He was born at the Seaplane Base hospital that overlooked Oak Harbor Bay where the hydroplane races take place.

“I came into this world right at the entrance of turn one on our race course,” Huff laughed. “It’s kind of cool.”

Huff, who now lives in Seattle, began racing hydroplanes in 2017 and first participated in Hydros for Heroes in 2018. Before that, he stuck to racing cars and motorcycles.

A hydroplane is a type of boat that actually flies over the top of the water. The only thing that touches the water is a propeller and small skid fin. The boats can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour.

Huff spends many weekends in the summer months in a hydroplane; he recently raced in Alabama, Indiana and Olympia. There are typically about 10 races in Washington state every year and he goes to an additional five or so out of state.

Huff described Hydros for Heroes as one of the best events on his schedule and one of the only saltwater races, along with an event in San Diego.

Unfortunately, Huff’s life hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

In November of 2020, a vertebrae in his spine broke under his own body weight while he was standing in his kitchen.

He had a tumor on his spine that had eaten away about 45% of the bone. Huff was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic upper tract urothelial cancer. The cancer had formed in his kidney and spread into his muscles, bone tissue and lymph nodes. Within a week, he was undergoing massive radiation treatments. After three rounds of radiation, he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy.

“I had to stop doing everything,” he said, which included running his business, Steve Huff Motorsports in Sea-Tac. The company designs and builds motorcycles, race cars and hydroplanes and runs several racing teams.

He was unable to work for eight months and went through all his savings. His friends got together and raised the money he needed to keep his business open. Huff said the kindness and generosity of his friends, along with his cancer diagnosis, inspired him to start the Faster than Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit with a goal to provide scholarships for kids who want to attend vocational and trade schools.

Huff said he considers Hydros for Heroes to be his most important race. Not only can he can raise awareness for his foundation, he can also support the mission of the race.

Hydros for Heroes is the only nonprofit hydroplane race in the entire country, according to Oak Harbor Councilmember Jim Woessner, who is part of the Craig Mackenzie Team that puts on the event. All the proceeds of the event are given back to the community and donated to local charities.

Huff wants to do what he can for the next generation and give back to Whidbey Island. He said that his family was very poor growing up and he lost his mom in a car accident when he was a senior in high school.

“The community on Whidbey Island kind of grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and kept me pointed in the right direction,” he said.

The cancer diagnosis hasn’t ended Huff’s racing career. He is now undergoing immunotherapy and broke his back again earlier this year during a race in Florida. He said his doctors may not recommend that he continues to race, but they understand it’s what he does for a living.

“Unfortunately, there’s this cancer thing that’s attached to me, but I’m not going to let it dictate what I do,” he said.

Huff said he has no doubt that he will win his race at Hydros for Heroes.

Races will take place on both Saturday and Sunday. There will be 14 races each day for a total of 28. Woessner said 40 teams are registered to compete, making it one of the largest hydroplane races in the region.

“In a typical race here in Oak Harbor, we typically have three or four of the most nationally known hydroplane racers in the country,” Woesnner said.

Boats will be launching from two different locations; a giant crane will launch flat bottom boats from Flintstone Park and trailer launch boats will be launched from the marina.

Hydroplane racing can be a dangerous activity. There will be paramedics and EMTs on site, as well as ambulances and medical flights waiting.

There is no cost to attend the event. There will be a beer garden, food and vendors on Bayshore Drive.

Volunteers are still needed for setup on Friday, as well as information booths, ticket sales for the beer garden and other tasks. The first 75 volunteers will receive a Hydros for Heroes T-shirt. People can sign up to volunteer at hydrosforheroes.com/volunteer.

Steve Huff climbing into his hydroplane before a race. (Photo provided)

Steve Huff climbing into his hydroplane before a race. (Photo provided)

Steve Huff’s hydroplane during a race. (Photo provided)

Steve Huff’s hydroplane during a race. (Photo provided)

Use the QR code to sign up to volunteer at Hydros for Heroes.

Steve Huff’s hydroplane during a race. (Photo provided)