Detroit Golden Cup hydroplane race draws diverse group of spectators


Tommy Massa

What started as a rainy, gloomy day in Detroit for the 2014 Detroit Gold Cup, turned into prime spectator weather as the clouds separated for the 100,000+ fans entering the event on Sunday, July 13 to watch hydroplane racers from all over the country compete. This event was once a Detroit pastime, with 1 million fans coming to watch back in the 1950s.

 The Detroit Gold Cup is run by the Detroit River Regatta Association (DRRA), and is made possible by over 400 volunteers, with only two full-time workers.

This event in Detroit is known specifically as “the boat wrecker,” as many boats have had accidents coming into the Rooster Tail turn (the restaurant adjacent to the course being its namesake). The Rooster Tail turn requires these jet-powered boats to come from a top speed of over 200 mph down to 140 mph in order to successfully make the turn. This treacherous turn causes turmoil for all parties.  

In the event of a mishap, rescue teams must be sent out into the water to save the driver, then the boat and the team owners have to worry about saving what they can from their boats that are valued at approximately $100,000.

Although the course itself has a famous reputation, the Detroit Gold Cup itself is the oldest active trophy in motorsports in the world, with contest of the Cup starting in 1904. The first race was won with a top speed of a mere 20 mph; it was not until the 1970s that racers hit speeds of 200 mph.

There was a lot at stake at the race, as all of the racers at the venue had never competed for the Gold Cup before. 

“It would mean the world to me to win the Gold Cup,” racer J. Michael Kelly of Gordon Trucking Inc. Racing said. “With all the history surrounding it and all the great names on there, having my name on there would be great.”

Racers prepare for most of their lives for an event like this. 

“I started racing when I was nine years old,” Kelly said. “ So I’ve been racing for 27 years –11 years in Unlimited series boats. It’s just always been in my blood, making a name for myself in smaller boats and working my way up to Unlimited.”

Racers recognizes that they can be in a dangerous position, but Kelly says it’s worth it.

“It’s a rush,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing that can compare to it.”