Boats zip along the Oak Harbor course during last year’s Hydros for Heroes. (Photo by Jim Waller/Whidbey News Group)

Boats zip along the Oak Harbor course during last year’s Hydros for Heroes. (Photo by Jim Waller/Whidbey News Group)

Hydros for Heroes return to Whidbey Island this weekend

Hydros for Heroes continues to grow in reputation and stature.

The boats will scream across Oak Harbor Bay from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24 and 25.

The popularity of the race among the boating community was evident this year when Hydros for Heroes was given the first choice of regional racing dates when the schedule was being drawn up; in the past it had to pick from what was left.

Also for the first time, some classes of boats were turned away.

“We are maxed out,” Race Director Jim Woessner said.

Ten classes of boats will compete, with a heat every 20 minutes.

“That’s pretty ambitious,” Woessner said, noting there will be two pit areas to help keep up with the high-paced schedule.

Each day will include a one-hour break so the drivers, crews and volunteers can rest and eat lunch; during that break, spectators will be allowed to visit the pit areas.

In all, 50 boats will take part, and the field of drivers includes some of boat racing’s top pilots. Five of the six drivers who skippered boats in the championship heat of the unlimited Seafair Race in Seattle several weeks ago are scheduled to race among the different classes in Hydros for Heroes.

One of the highlights this weekend will be the grand prix boats, which are the second largest and fastest class after the unlimiteds.

Hydros for Heroes is now a “full-blown, world-sanctioned race” for the grand prix, according to Woessner.

The racing should be highly competitive, Woessner added.

“It is getting close to the end of the year and earning points is important,” he said. “Several are former national champions and are in the running again this year.”

The event, which is hosted by the Craig McKenzie Team Foundation and supported by the Rotary Club of Oak Harbor, honors local heroes such the military, law enforcement, firefighters, teachers and health care professionals.

This is a charitable event, and the racing teams flock to Oak Harbor although they could receive more prize money at a race in Detroit this weekend. The teams like the opportunity to salute community heroes and help raise money for the Rotary’s charitable causes, according to Woessner.

So far Hydros for Heroes has raised more than $29,000 for local scholarships.

“We have been told that we are the only race in the country that the promoter gives all of the profits to charity,” McKenzie said.

The racers “like the race and how the town reaches out to them with open arms,” McKenzie added. “They really like the cause. Half are vets and they like racing for the military.”

Some pit crews will invite military personnel to be honorary members, welcoming “heroes onto their teams,” McKenzie said.

The race is free to spectators, with funds raised through sponsorships and donations.

“There is a lot of good will by our sponsors, putting on this event for our community,” Woessner said. Some of the boats will feature the names of local sponsors.

Spectators can also purchase a 30-foot tailgating space along Pioneer Way to camp out and get a front-row seat of the action in turn two.

Part of the success of the event can be traced back to the city, which is “very helpful,” McKenzie said. “The city loves it; they are hospitable and happy to accommodate.”

“The department heads come up with creative ideas on how to improve the event,” he added.

The support of city, the cause, the venue and the large, enthusiastic crowds have drawn notice in the racing community.

“We were approached by the international sanctioning committee out of Copenhagen about hosting a world championship,” Woessner said.

McKenzie and Woessner aren’t ready to take on such a task.

“It’s really hard putting on an all-volunteer event like this,” McKenzie said.

The volunteer army will number more than 150 this year.

Among the changes this summer is the location of the drivers’ welcoming dinner Friday night. The event is now 5-8 p.m. at Orlando’s, where the staff will prepare and serve food provided by Haggen.

An awards ceremony has been added for Saturday night, where trophies will be handed out to the winners of the first day of racing.

Hydros for Heroes will also have a new announcer, Jim Olson, the veteran voice of the Tri-Cities unlimited race.

To sponsor, donate or find information about Hydros for Heroes, visit www.hydrosforheroes.com

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