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Hydroplane Racing Returns to Owensboro, Kentucky after 40 years

Chris Davies on 8th January 2020

Kentucky’s fourth-largest city, Owensboro, nestled on a scenic bend of the Ohio River in Western Kentucky will host Grand Prix America automotive-powered hydroplane racing this summer after an absence of 40 years.

City officials today announced the three-day riverfront festival called “The 2020 Owensboro HydroFair presented by Jagoe Homes” is scheduled for August 14-16, and will include six additional smaller-class powerboats in addition to the Grand Prix America hydroplanes.

The Grand Prix America automotive-class hydroplanes are each powered by a supercharged engine that creates 1,600 horsepower that makes a thundering noise and reach speeds of upward of 160 m.p.h./257 k.p.h. Each Grand Prix hydroplane weighs about a ton, and average 26 feet in length, tossing beautiful water roostertails skyward as they race.

City of Owensboro public events director, Tim Ross said, “We are excited to bring this event to the Owensboro riverfront. Owensboro has a rich history of hydroplane racing, dating back to the 1960s.” He continued, “It will be thrilling for fans from throughout the region to return to the riverfront to see and hear the incredible action from these state-of-the-art boats.”

The Grand Prix class of hydroplanes last raced in Owensboro in 1979 after officials downsized from the larger powerboat counterpart, unlimited hydroplanes, which raced from 1969 through 1978.

In the 1970s, Owensboro was a mainstay of powerboat racing and drew between 50,000-100,000 spectators each year but with poor-rainy temperatures in the 60s, an energy crisis, and recession, made the environment tough for officials to continue.

Several years ago Owensboro completed a $69 million riverfront redevelopment, which quickly achieved international recognition. This led to discussions and set the stage for the return of hydroplane racing on the river in 2020.

Dean Rojas, president of the Grand Prix America Hydroplane Racing Series, said the organization is “thrilled” to help reestablish powerboat racing in such a unique town.

“Owensboro hosts more than 20 annual festivals including the world-famous International Bar-B-Q Festival, River of Music Party bluegrass festival, Big O Music Fest, just to name a few, and we at Grand Prix America hydroplanes intend to make hydroplane racing a must-see marquee summer festival for Owensboro for years to come,” Rojas said.

He added, “We have a lot of hydroplane fans in the Central United States and Tri-State area. Owensboro provides a great opportunity for fans to see us up-close and personal on this new 1.2-mile Ohio River race course.”

Rojas said eight to ten hydroplanes are forecast to attend this year’s HydroFair and is tentatively the Grand Prix American Hydroplane Racing Series’ fourth stop in their summer of racing.

Owensboro HydroFair presented by Jagoe Homes is a community event with free viewing areas planned throughout Smothers Park along the downtown riverfront. Serious fans can purchase VIP tickets for a behind-the-scenes look at the action in the race teams’ pit area and reserved seating along the start/finish line near the Owensboro Convention Center will also be available for purchase.

Rojas said that there are several opportunities for local companies to become marketing partners with a few of the teams. He said, “Our hydroplanes are like billboards for our marketing partners and offer a fantastic way for entertaining customers, clients and employees in a nontraditional business environment.”

The City of Owensboro is partnering with American Hydroplane Events, based in Evansville, Indiana, to produce the event.

Owensboro is Kentucky’s sports city, according to Sports Illustrated, who named Owensboro the “best city in Kentucky for sporting opportunities.”

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