NEXT WEEKEND, another tradition will fall victim to COVID-19. To many of us, a summer without the hydroplane races is like Boston without the marathon or Philly without cheesesteaks. The races on Lake Washington have meant the same to us as the Indy 500 means to a Hoosier, the Derby to a Kentuckian or the Iditarod to an Alaskan. It’s part of our culture.
I grew up here in the 1950s and ’60s. I’m part of the generation that knows the secret meaning of “zero dacus, mucho cracus, hallaballu-za bub.” I was one of those kids who was amazed that J.P. Patches, looking through his ICU2 TV on my birthday, could somehow know that my present was hidden in the dryer. And, I towed a little wooden hydroplane behind my bicycle.
A passion for hydroplane racing has been an integral part of the Pacific Northwest experience since I was a kid. It’s our history. It’s an obsession that began 70 years ago this summer, when three Seattleites built a strange-looking craft that literally flew across the water. With the unlikely name of Slo-mo-shun IV, it not only set a world speed record, but went on to Detroit and won the Gold Cup, the equivalent of winning the World Series or the Super Bowl.
That was huge stuff. Until the Sonics arrived 17 years later, hydroplanes provided Seattle with its only big-time pro sport. Each summer, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the shore of Lake Washington and the yachts along the log boom to watch the thundering boats.
Those who couldn’t be there listened on the radio or watched on television. All the local TV stations offered live coverage of the race and, in the days leading up to the event, even would interrupt regular programming, the Friday afternoon soap opera, if a local boat so much as ventured onto the racecourse for a qualifying run. That’s how big it was.
For those of us who grew up here, that’s our heritage. The hydro races have been a part of our culture, each summer without fail, for the past 70 years.
So, if you see a longtime Seattleite looking a little lost during the next couple of weeks, please try to understand. There’s a void in our lives. We’re feeling a bit out of sorts because an important summer ritual is missing this year.