Popular series grows from one round to four
Drag racing is one of the simplest forms of racing to understand. Two racers in vehicles start at one point and see who can get to another point the fastest.
It’s so simple, in fact that people often drag race on their own with friends. In 2005, Dave Bamdas, co-owner of RIVA Racing learned this was happening often in the PWC community. Riders would take to the lakes on weekends, race their buddies on PWC and call RIVA on Monday looking for new performance parts, so they could win the next weekend.
As this group of riders started taking up more of RIVA’s business, Bamdas thought about how his company could better sanction, promote and capitalize off it. After all, RIVA Racing was built off closed course racing when it started in the 1990s, so continuing in its racing heritage wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
Bamdas threw the idea of organized PWC racing to LOOK Marketing’s Tim McKercher, who was seeing the same trend and agreed it was a good idea.
“We saw a clear shift in the performance riders’ riding habits. With PWC getting faster and the owners getting older, no longer were the performance guys going to the closed course to get their competitive fix, they were racing across lakes, down rivers, going from point A to point B as fast as they could,” McKercher wrote in an email.
McKercher designed the first Launch Pad built on a pontoon frame. It uses a specially fabricated double bunk system to raise two PWC to the point where only the jet pump intakes are submerged. LOOK Marketing then found lakes where they could safely run 1/8-mile races, and HydroDrags was born.
Since the series’ inception, the event has grown, recently becoming IJSBA sanctioned and moving from one race per year to four rounds in 2013, closing with a world championship in November. Those who earn the most points in the three opening rounds earn spots in the final event.
“We just saw a huge potential for it. It was only one event, and we have a lot of racers that want to race more frequently,” Bamdas said.
Each round offers racing in five classes — unlimited, super stock, spec, pro stock and naturally aspirated. Anyone who joins the IJSBA can race. And as more PWC enthusiasts have learned about the series, more have been willing to make the jaunt to Florida, where all of the races are currently held.
“These guys are driving from New Jersey; they’re driving from New York; they’re driving from Virginia; they’re from the whole East Coast,” Bamdas said.
HydroDrags have also attracted competitors from Puerto Rico and even as far as the Middle East. Because the races are simply about who goes fastest, riders don’t have to train as much physically as they do when worrying about weight and cornering in closed course racing. This draws a larger group of competitors to the HydroDrags.
“We have 60-year-old guys, 50-year-old guys, we have a 70-year-old guy out there, and they’re just quick on the throttle,” Bamdas reported.
“Almost anybody can drag race, so it opens the door to so many performance enthusiasts who want to compete but not in closed course or freestyle. Skill still separates the best, but in the end anybody can be involved,” McKercher added.
The events have turned into family affairs, as many turn out to cheer on their family, friends and other competitors.
“Back on the beach, the venues are nice. It’s more like a family atmosphere,” Bamdas said, adding that people often go as far as bringing their own food to barbeque.
The beach at each round houses a variety of vendors. RIVA Racing, which is a primary sponsor along with PWC forum GreenHulk.net, has a display at every round, showcasing modified PWC and offering sales and tech support to riders and fans on site.
“It’s a good way to get that good customer feedback and that one-on-one with our customers,” Bamdas said. “We see this as a way of getting to our core customer base.”
The benefit for spectators, compared to closed-course racing, is it’s easy to determine who is winning, even for those who missed the starting block or part of the day. The Launch Pad also provides a show in itself, as two PVC pipes have been designed to catch the jet wash, causing a large plume of water to shoot up when the PWC take off.
“We looked at car drag racing for inspiration, and it was clear one of the coolest visual elements of street is the burnout. We had to create a cool visual for the start. We also wanted an element of timing and skill involved, and this is where the Launch Pad concept was born,” McKercher explained.
That effect has increased the excitement from shore.
“It gets a tremendous amount of coverage on social media, more than a closed course race. Everyone’s taking video and sharing them on YouTube and Facebook,” Bamdas said.
And often attending a race or two is enough to turn a fan into a racer.
“Plenty of spectators come one year to look, and the next year they come to participate. We’ve seen that happen for sure, and it’s been pretty nice,” Bamdas explained.
On top of the regular bracketed HydroDrags races, the event also hosts a top speed contest, in which racers one at a time are clocked with a radar gun. A winner is then named each day in each class. In 2012, a participant hit 101.7 mph, the highest speed ever recorded for a PWC, gaining the event plenty of national media coverage.
“The story was everywhere. I got like 50 calls from people everywhere,” Bamdas said, adding that he thinks that record will be broken in 2013.
For his business, creating and participating in HydroDrags has been a boon. Racers now turn to RIVA more often to increase their performance for the next race. Though RIVA Racing started out serving mostly closed course racers, that business has diminished to only 10-15 percent of sales. The rest is now focused on recreational use, which includes HydroDrag racing.
“It’s a very good activity to support the sale of aftermarket performance parts, and that’s why we support it and that’s why we sponsor it, and that’s why we show up there as a vendor,” Bamdas said.
Though HydroDrags has grown significantly since the series began, Bamdas would like to see it blossom even more in the coming years. The series would like to go nationwide, possibly to places such as PWC haven Lake Havasu, Ariz.
“I’m excited to see the growth,” Bamdas said. “I think it has a long way to go. I think it has a lot of a potential to go.”
McKercher, who has since passed the series to promoter Mike Young, also sees the benefit in growing the series’ presence.
“We see this form of racing having a huge growth potential, as it is relatively easy to package for live events and for TV,” he said. “It is exciting to see a PWC go over 100 mph.”