First came closed course racing. In recent years, endurance racing has surged in popularity. Now, a Florida-based promoter is pushing what it contends might be the next wave in organized PWC competition — drag racing.
WaterTop Unlimited, producer of the popular Florida Rally Series and Bimini Road Rally, took advantage of the Miami Boat Show to announce the creation of the HydroDrag National PWC Drag Race. The head-to-head drag races will be run in conjunction with the first stop of the Florida Rally Series, April 11-13 in Sebastian, Fla.
According to Tim McKercher, president and general manager of WaterTop Unlimited, the idea for the HydroDrag concept has been lingering for years. “This is what the real musclecraft buyers/owner/riders are doing with their machines,” McKercher said during a recent sit-down with Powersports Business. “Every PWC rider has at one time been involved with some form of informal drag race, be it against another PWC, another boat or a car on a bridge. Every rider has lined up in a parallel course to see who was fastest. It’s natural, and that is what musclecraft guys are doing. They are putting more focus and effort behind going ‘faster than the other guy,’ grudge-match drag racing on every lake, river and body of water around the world.”
WaterTop’s Florida Rally Series has run informal speed events at past stops, finding them to be one of the most popular activities for a group of hard-core performance enthusiasts. Those riders’ enthusiasm convinced the promoter to take drag racing center stage.
“Guys are spending a lot of money and time making their watercraft faster, but there is no professionally organized event for these guys to showcase their machines or riding skills and truly measure their abilities,” continued McKercher. That lack of professionalism, he contends, has kept the concept from being truly fair, and as a result, kept it on an informal level. WaterTop plans to change that fact by introducing a unique start system.
“There was also nothing in place to make the starts 100 percent fair,” said McKercher. “This is where our concepts come in. This is a new aspect of the sport waiting to happen. Nobody else was making it a reality, so we are taking it on our shoulders to invent the structure and model for this activity. We hope our model is one used by other promoters in coming years.”
WaterTop’s foray into drag racing had an interesting start. It resulted from an event worker forgetting the radar gun during a Rally Series event. As a result, the staff improvised, developing a bracketed, elimination-style head-to-head drag race with a rolling start. According to McKercher, the appeal was obvious, and the hypothetical light went on overhead. The event was exciting for spectators, clearly showed who was the fastest, and required a dose of rider skill.
It also, however, required a better venue.
“Watercraft racing isn’t the most spectator-friendly sport unless it is at a venue that lends itself to easy-to-follow courses that are easy for spectators to see,” McKercher said. “The venues for a drag race are simple; long and straight, somewhat narrow and smooth. Canals and ski lakes are the ideal venues.”
For the first HydroDrag, WaterTop has chosen a location close to home, Florida Water Management Canal C-54. A place McKercher calls the “Bonneville Salt Flats of Waterways,” the canal is almost perfectly straight for a four-mile long stretch, offers 10-15-foot high embankments to both shelter the waterway from wind as well as provide ideal spectator viewing opportunities and is about 80-100 yards wide. WaterTop plans to construct a two-lane course that will be simple for spectators to understand and view, as well as offer an unique starting concept that will not only ensure fairness, but also bring some of the visual appeal of auto drag racing to the marine environment.
“The start is always one of the most exciting aspects of any race, and with drag racing, the burn-out is one of the famous visuals,” said McKercher. “We had to figure out how to create the same sort of visual.”
WaterTop also needed to provide a fair starting system. What the company came up with is a concept currently finishing the final stages of R&D dubbed the Launch Pad, essentially a floating, anchored platform with two, side-by-side hinged bunks. Competing PWC will sit atop these bunks, with hull bottoms just deep enough in the water to allow the pumps to remain loaded. At the start, the bunks will drop fully into the water and the craft are off.
“To create a visual spectacle, behind the bunks will be a large aluminum clam shell forcing the pump wash up into an explosion of water,” McKercher said. “It will certainly supply the ‘wow’ we are looking for and give the racers a true side-by-side start.”
Already the event has signed on a big-name title sponsor. WaterTop had been discussing the concept with Riva Motorsports for years, and the mega aftermarket company eagerly signed on to lend its name to the event. McKercher says it’s a natural fit, as 90-95 percent of the company’s aftermarket customers are informal racers, people who will never venture into a closed-course format.
The HydroDrag National will take place at the first of WaterTop’s Florida Rally Series. Ultimately, the company would love to see the overall events resemble Daytona’s popular Bike Week. “The enthusiasts are there, and they could draw new people in by showing them the fun to be had on a PWC.” psb