Lack of live TV coverage, race-format change give Seafair hydro event a different feel

There was a different schedule on Lake Washington, with less unlimited-hydroplane heat racing on the final day. And there was no live television show.

There was a different feel Sunday in the Stan Sayres Pits during the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair.

There was a different schedule on Lake Washington, with fewer unlimited hydroplane heats on the final day. And there was no live television show.

KIRO-TV announced in March it was pulling the daylong live show because of poor ratings. It was the first time in 66 years the races, which at one time were broadcast on three local stations, weren’t shown on live TV.

“There’s a lot of stuff we don’t see here and it feels like something is missing,” said U-12 Albert Lee Appliance driver Brian Perkins, who grew up in Seattle watching the coverage.

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Perkins said most drivers record the races on their DVRs and unwind after a long weekend watching the coverage.

“A lot of people are bummed,” said J. Michael Kelly, who grew up watching in Bonney Lake. “Hopefully it’ll come back, or somebody else will pick it up.”

For the first time, there were two preliminary heats Saturday. There was one on Sunday plus the championship final. In recent years, there was one prelim heat Saturday and two Sunday.

“When it came to the heats themselves, we looked at it and what we saw was we were getting a little tightly packed on Sunday,” Seafair executive director of operations Adam Cook said. “Drivers are having to race a little bit too much back to back, with not enough lag time in between.”

As Seafair is more than just an unlimited-hydroplane race, there’s a busy schedule fitting three classes of race boats and an air show, highlighted by the Blue Angels, which are Seafair’s top draw.

“Hydros are part of our core and part of our history and who we are,” Cook said. “We’re really developing the whole festival as a whole.”

But, there was still a long wait Sunday for fans of the unlimiteds as the prelim heat was over by 12:30 p.m. and the final wasn’t until 4:45 p.m.

The Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities has two prelim heats on Saturday and two on Sunday, a format popular with at least some drivers.

“I think we need to pack this thing full of racing,” Kelly said. “Who cares if the drivers get tired? It’s what gets the fans going.”

Nice weekend for Kelly

Kelly and the U-12 Graham…

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