If Steve David was going to criticize the sport in which he was so successful, when the time came to change it he knew he’d better take it — retirement or no.
That was the situation David found himself in last year. He was being offered the role of interim commissioner for H1 Unlimited. David had retired from unlimited hydroplane racing after the 2013 season. He said he left partially for health reasons, but “more I was just frustrated with the sport.”
Despite being busy as CEO of a real estate firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, David decided he’d “better put his money where his mouth is.” So Sam Cole stepped down and David stepped up in October.
David retired after a late-career run left him as one of the top, and most popular, drivers in the sport’s history. He took the driver’s seat of the Oh Boy! Oberto in 2001 and won six national high points championships in eight years from 2005-12. His 18 career wins is No. 6 on the career wins list.
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Despite being so successful on the water, David was never happy with how the sport ran off it.
“The first thing was to clean up everything that bothered me about it and what I perceived as a lack of integrity in the governance in the sport and to clean up the financial aspects,” David said. “The first four months were figuring out where the dead bodies were and taking care of those.”
David said he spent the next four months working on the officiating, an aspect of the sport that could seem as if rules were made up on the fly at times.
Jimmy Shane, who took over the Oberto from David and won a national championship in it last year, said the change in officiating has been noticeable.
“There has been a lot of changes in the last six months to a year,” Shane said. “All I can say is the change is very much needed.”
Growing the sport is the biggest job going forward. Hydroplane racing has struggled for decades to regain the popularity it had in the 1960s and into the 1990s.
“The competition on the water has been phenomenal, but it hasn’t turned into more races and more sponsorships,” legendary driver turned analyst Chip Hanauer said.
The circuit has only five races this year, which David has been working to expand. He said the race in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, should return next season. A new shootout-style race is set to debut in Owensboro, Kentucky.
David said he’d like to see a return to eight and nine-race seasons. He mentions races returning to Evansville, Indiana, and Kelowna, British Columbia, as “50-50” possibilities.
Gaining sponsorships, the life blood of hydroplane racing, has always been a priority.
“I think the sport needs to start with a clean sheet of paper,” Hanauer said. “What we have been doing hasn’t led to growth so I think we have to try something else.”
David said he retained some help from the business school at the University of Denver to analyze the sport and come up with a new business plan. The idea is for the sport to go into next season with a better financial sense of itself.
“So we can go into 2016 with eyes wide open, know what we can be and aspire to that rather than opposed to what everybody wishes we could be,” David said.
So how long will David keeping working on it? Probably not too long.
“I’m always looking for somebody better,” David said.
David said he hopes to have his replacement by the end of the year. It could be a tough task as it’s a non-paying position so finding somebody with the know-how and financial security to do it narrows the field.
“I still have a mountain to climb, but I think we’ll get there,” David said.
Jimmy King hadn’t driven at the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair since 2009, but he won his first heat back, claiming Heat 1B on Saturday on Lake Washington. King, who drives the U-3 Homestreet Bank, has the only piston-powered boat in the turbine fleet. Shane and Oberto edged Cal Phipps in the Dalton Industries in a tight Heat 1A. In Heat 1C, defending Seafair champ J. Michael Kelly in the Graham Trucking took the inside lane and outdrove top qualifier Jean Theoret in the Ellstrom Elam Plus. … Sunday’s racing starts at 11:20 a.m. with the final scheduled for 4:45 p.m. … Mike Webster in the U-22 Boitano Homes qualified during the testing session Saturday morning. That brings the total to 11 qualifiers.
ALBERT LEE APPLIANCE CUP
Where: On Lake Washington
First race: 11:20 a.m. Sunday
Final: 4:45 p.m.
TV: Ch. 7.