Unlimited Hydroplanes will not race in San Diego in 2009 - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Unlimited Hydroplanes will not race in San Diego in 2009

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"Nothing is going to change,'' Thunderboats Unlimited Chariman Jeff Thomas told XETV in San Diego. "The event is going on just as it always has.''

But the event is continuing without the Unlimited Hydroplanes running at Mission Bay in San Diego, a place they've run for 40+ years. 

Yes, it's all about money.  And quite simply, the San Diego race site has struggled to come up with the cash to pay the ABRA to run.  "Unfortunately, the San Diego race committee has missed two deadlines with us and has not paid any deposit fees for the event," said ABRA Race Chairman Sam Cole.

ABRA's certainly done its part to keep the races afloat there in past years.  "The ABRA has been very supportive of the event for the past four years and has worked to assist the committee each year to help them achieve financial stability," said Cole.  "The ABRA has raised more than $680,000 to help Thunderboats Unlimited in just the past four years."

Perhaps once of the reasons is what's happened to the San Diego event sponsor, the San Diego Union-Tribune.  Last year, the Union-Tribune became the event's title sponsor.  It was called SAN DIEGO BAYFAIR POWERED BY THE UNION TRIBUNE.  But the Union-Tribune is noticeably absent from the name and from the Bayfair website in 2009.

The newspaper industry has been devastated by a bad economy and changing media consumption.  That forced a difficult decision by the Copley family, who had run the newspaper for 80 years.  With advertising revenues declining by 40% since 2006, the family was forced to sell the Union-Tribune to a private-equity firm, Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills, CA.

New owners, a new agenda, and increasingly difficult market and financial pressures are leading to changes at the newspaper.  While there's been no official confirmation, it appears the Union-Tribune will not be the title sponsor of the event in 2009.

HydroInsider.com reported the news last month that the Unlimited races at San Diego were in serious trouble and that the San Diego site organizers were having trouble coming up with the money to get the hydros to come.

Unlimited Hydroplanes may not return to San Diego in 2009 >>

For the past several years, ABRA and team owners have worked with the San Diego race folks, year-to-year, on making the event happen.  There are still unpaid bills from years past. 

Last year, Ken Muscatel put together a group to help save hydroplane racing for the 2008 event at San Diego.  And that's exactly what they did, helping find sponsors and a plan to "continue and expand the vision Bill Muncey had from the beginning," according to a 2008 news release from Thunderboats Unlimited at this time last year.

After Muscatel's group got to work, funding sources were procured, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, who stepped up to be a title sponsor of Bay Fair, along with the Boeing Company.  "Race Marketing Partners found a perfect match of sponsors with The San Diego Union Tribune and their other major corporate partner, The Boeing Company," said ABRA's Sam Cole in August, 2008.

And this year, the economy has taken its toll on everyone.  Bayfair hasn't come up with money to pay the Unlimiteds to race.

In a news release, ABRA made it official: "The American Boat Racing Association announced that it is dropping San Diego from its official schedule for the 2009 season."

The ABRA has declared that IF San Diego can get make the necessary payments and arrangements, the sanctioning body would definitely consider reinstating the event. 

According to XETV, Thomas said Thunderboats Unlimited is still negotiating with the ABRA and that the dispute was "all about money.''

"We have to make this announcement now since we do not want fans of unlimited hydroplane racing purchasing tickets or motorhome spaces thinking our boats will be there," said Cole."Unfortunately, it appears we will bot be able to work things out with the Board of Director for 2009.'

The ABRA unlimited hydroplane season will open on the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana with the running of the Madison Regatta.

"At this time they do not have the financial resources to pay us our prize money. RMP is not going to market the event this year. It has been a tough process to get to this point, but we need to move ahead with or without the event.

I am sad that a 41 year run looks like it is ending. The door remains open - we'll race if we are paid...Our country is in the worst recession it has faced in over 60 years and it has really hurt the economy. We have helped San Diego in the past, and will help them in the future.

But as an old friend once told me...it takes a quarter to make a phone call, not 24 cents."

Read Sam's full remarks >>