Without question, the recent departure of three Ted Porter family-owned teams on the Air National Guard Hydroplane Series leaves a void for the series as it heads into 2012. (For the uninitiated, the series is a showcase for the turbine-powered aquatic wonders commonly known as Unlimited hydroplanes that can reach speeds of more than 200 mph.)
The Porter-backed team enjoyed a solid six-year run on the circuit, during which it claimed two national championships, and campaigned three boats in 2011.But beyond the success of its own teams, the Porter-backed venture was good for the sport. Porter is credited with developing drivers, and initiated a training program to expand the number of Unlimited hydroplane drivers. That driver-mentoring program led to the successful qualification of Bianca Bononcini—the only qualified female driver on the tour.
Still, for Porter, who is selling the team’s boat and gear, including seven Unlimited hydroplane hulls, four trucks, eight T55 turbine engines, six gearboxes, and more than 40 propellers, it was the right time to exit the sport. “It is with heavy heart and fond memories I announce that the Porter family is exiting the sport to pursue other interests,” Porter said in a press release. “It is our choice to leave the sport in healthy times. We entered the sport to help make it stronger. Now that the sport has the staying power to last for generations, we feel we can move on.”
“Ted and his family have been a major, very positive part of our sport on and off the racecourse, and we will miss them personally and professionally,” said Sam Cole, the H1 Unlimited chairman. “I want to personally thank Ted for all he has contributed to the growth of the sport and wish him and the Porter family all the best in their future endeavors.”
But while Cole expressed sadness at the departure of the Porters from the series, he remained optimistic about the 2012 season. Based on conversations with Ted Porter, he said that at least two of the former Porter teams would be racing in 2012.
"It's that time of year when changes happen," Cole said. "If you look at NASCAR, teams are sold or merge during the off-season, and this is no different."
Cole said that based on his conversations with Ted Porter he expects at least two of the teams to be racing next year with new owners.
As for the overall state of the sport, Cole continued to be very bullish about its future. He said he expects that the Air National Guard will return as the series' title sponsor, and will add at least one race to its six-race season. Cole is also working on a race in Asia, but acknowledged that the event is far from a done deal. "New race sites generally take two to three years to develop," he said. "It's a big investment. We're diligent in trying to find new race venues."
Editor’s Note: Ted Porter is a member of the Porter family that owns Formula Boats/Thunderbird Products in Decatur, Ind.