COEUR d’ALENE — The pins on Aaron Walker’s hat were tokens of hydroplane history.
“That hat has every Diamond Cup button, every year plus two from this year,” said Dave Walker, Aaron’s dad. The lifelong Coeur d’Alene residents walked on the Centennial Trail on Saturday during the second day of the 2013 Coeur d’Alene Diamond Cup and H1 Unlimited Hydroplane racing event. Dave said he was impressed with the much-anticipated return of the Diamond Cup, and it brought back plenty of childhood memories.
“We rode our bikes down and hung out in the pits, and went home with spark plugs, booster buttons, anything we could get our hands on. It was a lot of fun,” he said. Although he sold many of the buttons, “the Diamond Cup ones I always kept.” Dave said the Diamond Cup was better than Christmas when he was a kid, but this weekend was an awesome time for it to return.
“This is the premier water racing sport,” Dave said. “It’s the top of the line. These guys race in Qatar, so I mean this is a world (event). This is like the Formula 1 of boat racing, and so to have Coeur d’Alene back on the circuit is pretty amazing.”
And they are like Formula 1 race cars, flying across the top of the lake, sending geysers of water spraying behind them.
They’re loud, they’re powerful, and thousands of people have made their way to Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive to witness the appearance of these monster watercrafts speeding along the circuit for the first time in generations.
Terry Treend of Post Falls said she came to the races because it was new to her, but she also thought a large draw was “the water, being outdoors and the community itself.” She said it’s a good event for Coeur d’Alene to be hosting, and she was impressed with the day’s activities.
“When the (announcer) was talking, he said there weren’t very many of these races all over,” she said. “Seattle, Detroit and Tri-Cities. So to be on that venue I think is awesome for Coeur d’Alene.”
Treend said she thought the crowd was very well managed, and she had a smooth experience getting right into the event.
“They put it on greatly,” she said. “I think a lot of people wondered, and I know a lot of people didn’t come because they didn’t want deal with the crowds. They didn’t want to bike in or want to be bused in because it would be way too crowded, but I think they (organizers) handled it very well.”
Moments before driver David Warren of Lake Stevens, Wash., came in second place in the Grand Prix West Heat 2A, he said it’s the crowds of people and cheering fans that make the races so exciting.
“The happier the fans are, the more we get pumped up,” Warren said. “We want to interact with the people. Ultimately, we’re putting on a show for the fans. If we can do that and they’re happy, then we’re happy.”
Warren, who has been racing hydroplanes for nine years, said it is also the camaraderie and teamwork that makes for a fulfilling experience.
The need for speed is also exhilarating.
“It’s almost like an alter-ego that kicks in when the hatch shuts,” he said. “All of a sudden, you’re just like a different person. You go out there and you’re just like a machine. You’re looking for the next buoy and you’re looking to beat the next guy.”
The noise and power of the boats mixed with the excitement of a unique event meant a multitude of people, from all over the States, wandering around the event and watching the action on the water.
Nancy Cowley of Coeur d’Alene is volunteering all weekend. She said she thought part of the allure of the hydroplanes was curiosity and mechanical intrigue.
“My dad and my brother-in-law and my nephews came this morning,” she said. “They love the boats and they wanted to see the engines.” She said she heard more than a few men get excited when they heard an engine fire up.
“People seem to be really enjoying themselves,” she said. “After being out here for two days, I’d support it coming back.”
New memories of the weekend’s historic event can still be made. Activities will resume at 8 a.m. today and continue until about 5 p.m.