COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – It's the biggest announcement of the year from Lake Coeur D'Alene: For the first time in 44 years, the Diamond Cup Regatta is coming back.
The three-day event will be held on the long Labor Day weekend, and will feature some of the fastest hydroplane boats in the world. The H1 Unlimited class will be on exhibition, and races will be underway for the Grand Prix and Vintage classes.
It's interesting to note hydro racing has been banned in the City of Coeur D'Alene, but to address some of the concerns about traffic and noise, the event will be father east, near Silver Beach, in Kootenai County.
Bleachers will be set up for the 20-30,000 fans expected to make the trip throughout the holiday weekend, as they cheer on the boats on a 2-mile track at Indy 500 speeds.
"The course that we've laid out will provide us with a 220 mile-per-hour course, which is pretty exciting," said Doug Miller, the President and Race Director of the Coeur D'Alene Diamond Cup Regatta.
Billy Schumacher won the last Coeur D'Alene Diamond Cup back in 1968, at the young age of 25.
"The vision I have of the last heat, it's still there, it was a very exciting moment," he told KHQ. "We had a lot of good competition in 1968, and it was anybody's race. Whoever got the best start usually won the race that year…. I started perfectly in the final heat that year, and that's when it really counts."
Schumacher will be back for the return of the Diamond Cup this year – but this time, to watch.
"I have a lot of fond memories of Lake Coeur D'Alene and Coeur D'Alene itself, and I'm really looking forward to coming back," he added.
Race organizers say the sport is safer now than ever before. Whereas drivers in Schumacher's day were out in the open, now they're enclosed in capsules, and breathe from a scuba mask. There's a hatch in the bottom of the capsule so that if a boat flips in the water, they can escape. It's a scenario drivers practice for before they even hit the lake; they have to go through "capsule training" in a swimming pool, where they're in a capsule, get flipped upside down and have to get out safely.
Schumacher said if you had an accident in the boat he used to drive in the 60's, you'd be lucky to get out alive.
"But today, you can flip at 200 miles per hour and walk away, so there's a huge difference," he explained. "When we drove, it was a very dangerous thing to do. Today it's a lot better."
Hydro racing is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the world, and with only 5 or 6 races held in the U.S. every year, to host one is huge for our area. Race organizers expect it to put Coeur D'Alene on the international race map, and to generate more than $12 million dollars for our local economy.
"I think we're also going to create a few hundred jobs here as we go along, many vendors will be on the course," said Coeur D'Alene Diamond Cup Commodore Dennis Wheeler.
While the event will be held outside city limits, spectators will be staying, eating, and shopping in Coeur D'Alene – and local businesses tell KHQ, that business is welcome.
"Being that we're a tourist town, any event that goes on down here is just phenomenal for business," said Kim Sheldon, an employee of Sweet B Cupcakes.
"It would benefit us because we are on Sherman, which is the busiest part of town, and we've got a lot of foot traffic," added Elise Droogmans, a server at Scratch Restaurant. "And of course, the more bodies the better."
That's especially true during Labor Day weekend, at the end of the summer season, when tourism begins to slow down.
Diamond Cup organizers hope to make this an annual event in Coeur D'Alene, and expect the crowd of dedicated fans to grow every year into the hundred of thousands.
To accommodate the traffic and parking, spectators will park at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, and a shuttle will bring them to the race site.
"We will become the #1 race in the United States," Wheeler added.