Beware The Roar Of Hydroplanes

Posted: August 22, 1986

All systems are go for a hydroplane-racing spectacular on the Delaware River this weekend.

At least eight unlimited hydroplanes - capable of speeds up to 200 m.p.h. - will compete for $125,000 in prizes on a two-mile oval course between Penn's Landing and Camden's Wiggins Waterfront Park as the highlight of the three- day event.

Time trials will be held today, elimination heats tomorrow and the finals Sunday.

The public can watch the racing from either side of the river, with a general-admission charge of $5 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a grandstand admission charge of $10. Entry to the pits, near Wiggins Waterfront Park, will be $5. The event will benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Besides the unlimited-hydroplane race, the event - known as the River Spectacular - will include music throughout the weekend on a total of six stages in Philadelphia and Camden, as well as a flyover of airplanes and a river parade today. The Cypress Gardens water-ski show and races of Jersey Skiff hydroplanes will be part of tomorrow's and Sunday's attractions.

Jim Kropfeld, 45, of Cincinnati, the first pilot to arrive in the area for the race, said that rocketing along at high speeds did not faze him. He has clinched victories in Syracuse, N.Y., and San Diego during the current 11- event racing season. This weekend's event is the eighth in the season, and its results help teams build points toward the national championship.

"If all goes well, we have our sights set on the '86 World High Points title," Kropfeld said of his racing team. "I think we can do it."

Kropfeld, the only driver to win 10 of his first 22 unlimited races, is to be at the controls of a turbine-powered hydroplane called "Miss Budweiser" that will make its debut this weekend. The hydroplane is owned by Bernie Little, who racing enthusiasts say is the winningest owner in the sport.

Little purchased two hydroplanes and had them rebuilt, enclosing their cockpits with canopies similar to those on F-16 fighter planes.

Last weekend, Kropfeld set a world competition two-mile lap record of 138.832 m.p.h. and a world heat record of 134.617 m.p.h. at the Syracuse Thunderboat Regatta, only to discover that he was disqualified for not being on his boat 60 seconds before the start. He vowed yesterday to avenge the defeat.

Donald Jones, head of the Unlimited Racing Commission, which is organizing the three-day event, said he hoped that more than 300,000 people would turn out to watch the hydroplanes roar by.

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