If you're a fan of hydroplane racing, then by all means go see "Madison. " The movie opens April 22, and it tells the story of the 1971...

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If you’re a fan of hydroplane racing, then by all means go see “Madison.” The movie opens April 22, and it tells the story of the 1971 Gold Cup, won in surprising fashion by the Miss Madison on its home waters. You’ll no doubt find much to enjoy, especially the re-created racing scenes that vividly recall the glory days of the sport.

If you don’t care much about hydros but simply like movies about underdogs who come out on top — particularly those that are safe for the entire family — then go see “Madison.” It’s not “Rocky” or “Hoosiers,” as its promotional material suggests, but there’s a lot worse out there and the kids will like it.

But if you’re looking for the true story of the Miss Madison’s improbable victory, be sure to pour a huge grain of salt on your popcorn as you head into the theater.

The movie claims to be “based on the inspiring true story” of the Miss Madison’s win in the 1971 Gold Cup, generally regarded as one of the most memorable races in the history of the sport.

But other than the fact a boat named the Miss Madison won the Gold Cup in 1971 in Madison, Ind., piloted by a driver named Jim McCormick, most of the rest of the movie plays fast and loose with the facts.

McCormick, portrayed expertly by Mount Vernon native Jim Caviezel, is the central figure of the movie. McCormick is depicted as a resident of Madison, Ind., who decides to stay in town while many others are forced to leave due to a lagging shipping economy. Much of the drama revolves around his decision to get back in the driver’s seat for the race after the driver McCormick has just hired is killed in the race before the Gold Cup.

None of that is true, other than the part about Madison’s lagging economy. McCormick didn’t live in Madison at the time — though once he won the race, he was regarded as something of an honorary citizen — and actually was a veteran driver who had piloted the Miss Madison since 1969. And the death of a driver is apparently based on an incident that happened to a friend of McCormick’s a few years later.

Madison as host city

A key subplot involves the efforts of the city of Madison to host the race. In the movie, the city gets the race only when another site that had won the rights — the Tri-Cities, interestingly — comes up short. Madison’s name is reluctantly drawn out of a hat and the hydro powers-that-be try to convince city officials they aren’t up to conducting the race. But McCormick valiantly pledges to help raise money, and a crusty-but-lovable mayor helps the cause.

The reality is somewhat different, according to an account written by hydro historian Fred Farley. Madison, which at the time had 13,000 residents, was the only site that submitted its bid on time and got the race with what Farley calls “a smaller-than-usual” bid of $30,000.

But once Madison’s bid was accepted, apparently all was smooth sailing, and the race was attended by an estimated 110,000 fans.

The Miss Madison itself is depicted as barely able to float. And it’s true that the Madison — a team that’s still racing on the circuit — has always been a second-division boat, operating with one of the smallest budgets.

But as Farley has written, the reality is that for that season, the Madison was one of the faster boats on the circuit. It finished second in the first two races of the season, recording the fastest speeds at one of the races, and won the Atomic Cup in the Tri-Cities three weeks after the Gold Cup.

In the movie version of the championship heat, the Madison inevitably rallies to win on the last lap, something hydro aficionados know rarely happens. The Madison actually took the lead on the first lap and pulled steadily ahead, winning by 16.3 seconds.

Does it matter?

The question, then, is whether any of that matters.

Those in the hydro community, who hope the movie can help give the struggling sport a boost, say it should be taken as just that: a movie.

Ken Muscatel, a longtime owner and driver, was a consultant on the movie and drove one of the boats for the race scenes. He says, “it’s not factual, but it’s dramatically true. I’m giving it a pass on that.”

Farley has written that “granted, there is a lot of fictionalizing … but this is a movie not a documentary.”

The view here is that some fictionalizing is inevitable. Compressing a summer’s worth of events into 94 minutes is almost impossible without altering things to make the story understandable. And maybe the producers felt a story about the niche sport of hydroplane racing needed as much help as it could get.

But some of the little fictionalizations didn’t seem necessary.

For instance, one of the races before the Gold Cup is in Chicago, which has never been a part of the circuit. And a voiceover at the end of the movie by John Mellencamp — portraying McCormick’s son — says he later became an unlimited racer himself, which isn’t true.

We’ve gotten used to this, of course. Almost any movie these days “based on a true story” inevitably comes wrapped in fantasy.

In this case, we can only hope that seeing the movie will make fans seek out the true story of the Miss Madison, which in its own right is just as fascinating as the movie version.

Bob Condotta covers hydroplane racing for The Seattle Times. He attended his first race in 1969, at age 6: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com