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Hydroplanes make a fast impression on Folsom Lake

H1 Unlimited series wants to bring national event to area
By: Penne Usher/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Some of the fastest racing boats in the world showed off their high-speed ability Thursday on Folsom Lake.

Capable of reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph, the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes are a sight to behold, and one that might become a returning event on Folsom Lake.

The Air National Guard Series staged a four-boat exhibition in hopes of gaining interest in making a return to the area with an annual national event.

“The last time this type of boat raced here was in 1967,” media representative Peter McDermott said. “We’d like to do a national event in May for the kickoff of the entire series.”

McDermott said having the event at Folsom Lake has the potential to pump millions into the local economy.

“This event could bring in in excess of $5 million to this community in a week,” he said. “We just need the people to be behind it.”

Invited guests, media and curious spectators gathered at Folsom Lake to take in the spectacle as a 50-ton crane lowered the boats, weighing from 6,500 to 7,000 pounds, into the water.

H1 Unlimited has more than a dozen teams with turbine-powered hydroplanes. Drivers are subjected to G-forces of 6 Gs in turns. Daytona race car drivers face 4 to 5 Gs in turns.

G-force, a measure of stress on a body during rapid acceleration, is a familiar term to military jet pilots. It also applies to auto and extreme boat racers.

“I would definitely like to have this here,” said Bryce Scofield of Elk Grove, who has been an H1 fan for several years and has passed on his love of the sport to his son.

Justin Scofield, 7, was allowed to take off a day from school to watch the exhibition. He said he likes to watch the boats “because they are fast.”

Asked if he’d like to be in one of the boats, he replied, “No, it goes a little too fast.”

For all their speed, the H1s are relatively quiet. Considering they’re powered by a Chinook helicopter engine and shoot a rooster tail of water about 50 feet into the air, the noise level is minimal.

J.W. Myers, 38, of Seattle, Wash., was behind the wheel of the No. 11 boat. With 27 years of experience, he has raced, crewed for and repaired them all.

He said racing at such high speeds with multiple boats — six per race — can be “bombarding.”

“It gets really violent out there,” he said.

Spectators new to the sport were impressed.

“I’ve never seen this before,” said Steve Book of Folsom. “It’s pretty impressive.”
The Air National Guard Series concludes its tour next weekend in San Diego. The tour then moves to Doha, Qatar, for its 10-boat world championship from Nov. 17-19.

Watch J.W. Myers fly arcoss Folsom Lake in his hydorplane boat.

UNLIMITED HYDROPLANES BY THE NUMBERS

Hydroplanes are the fastest racing boats in the world.
Average length: 30 feet
Width: 13 feet
Weight: 6,500 pounds
Power: T-44/L-7 Turbine
Top speed: 200 mph plus
Lap speed record: 173 mph on a 2.5-mile course
World record: 220.505 mph on a mile straightaway
Information: www.h1unlimited.com
Information provided by H1 Unlimited

IN THE KNOW

* More than 12 teams compete on the H1 Unlimited circuit.
* Drivers compete in a series of preliminary heats with those who earn the most points qualifying for the winner-take-all final heat.
* Race courses range from 1.6 to 2.5 miles.
* A start clock that counts down to zero is used to begin a race.
* The most winning active driver is Dave Villwock with 64.
* Driver Steve David has won five of the last six high-point driver championships.