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Madison's Unlimited Hydroplane Heritage

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There's just something about a community of 13,000 people that owns a hydroplane.

"Driving for Madison is a great experience," U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison driver Steve David told last season.   "I always say this is one 13,000 member team," he said.

There's a history that runs deep.  The boat racing tradition in Madison tracks back to the early 1900's.  An annual race has been held every year since 1929.  The Madison Regatta name was adopted in 1948. 

It's that tradition, the "Madison Mystique" that's drawn some people to the races and to the town.  In some cases, it was the movie.

Watching the movie "Madison" inspired a couple, Morgan and Yolanda Kelly, to travel from Klawock, Alaska to Madison, Indiana to see how much of the story was reality-based.

Madison Courier story on the Kelly's >>
Madison movie info >>

Steve Tomberlin, 47, of Colorado Springs also rented the movie in 2007.  He liked it so much, he watched it three times.  He looked online for the racing schedule and saw Madison was that weekend.  

So he hopped in his car and made the 20 hour drive to get there.

Steve became a mini-celebrity in his own right, even getting to present the trophy to U-100 driver Greg Hopp for winning Heat 3C at Madison. 

VIDEO:  Steve Tomberlin >>
    PHOTO AT RIGHT:  Jack Lowe

The focus of the movie Madison is the story of a town that's seen better days and rallies behind the Miss Madison and hydro driver Jim McCormick.  The team comes out of nowhere to win the 1971 Gold Cup.

Ed Cooper, Sr. was a member of that time in real life.  He said they didn't give much thought to winning that year.  "We didn't really think we had a chance," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  But the win, which inspired the movie, did happen.  And the stuff of legends was born.

Legendary driver Bill Cantrell chose Madison as a place to retire in 1976.  Cantrell won the Madison Regatta four times.  He was a two-time national champion, Gold Cup winner, and even raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1948, 1949, and 1950.

Visitors to the Madison riverfront will find a plaque that provides a tribute to "Wild Bill" Cantrell and celebrates that legacy.

If you've never strayed far off the path between the river, your car, and a hotel, you may not have noticed the plaques that are placed around the area, saluting other drivers and boats - another example of the history and tradition that's embedded in the community.

    PHOTO AT RIGHT:  Kirk Duncan

Representing Madison and the Oberto Sausage Company, driver Steve David has had great success.  Even in an 16+ year old boat, he managed to win the National High Points driver championship two years in a row.

In 2007, the company and the community built a new unlimited hydroplane. In its first season, the boat ran faster at each race site.  The season culminated with David and the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison winning the last two races of the season at Seattle and San Diego.

Seattle Archives >>
San Diego Archives >>
    PHOTO AT RIGHT:  Jack Lowe

And that leads to great anticipation and optimism about the 2008 season and the next step in Madison's hydro heritage.

"The big goal down the road for 2008 is to bring U-1 to the, city of Madison, the Oberto and then win the Gold Cup," said David.

"We promised the people of Madison if they gave us a great boat, we'd give them a great run," said David.  2007 was just that, winning the first heat in the new boat at Madison, and closing out the season winning the Chevrolet Cup and the Bill Muncey Cup.

"I'm quite confident that if we stay wired like we are now," said David; "we're set to win a bunch of races next year."

"We're gonna be fully armed next year to seek to be the top qualifier at every race as well as win at a number of races and bring U-1 home to the city of Madison," he said.

BELOW:  Some of the plaques you'll find along the way in Madison.  Photos:  Kirk Duncan