By BRIAN WALKER
Hagadone News Network
A contingent of North Idaho businessmen have organized a new hydroplane racing festival in Arizona for February with the possibility of returning the sport to Lake Coeur d'Alene in future years.
Greg Cook, former executive director of the Panhandle Area Council economic development agency, and Patrick Stroud, whose background is in hospitality and entertainment industries, co-founded the Arizona H2OMG! Festival at Lake Pleasant near Phoenix scheduled Feb. 23-27.
"Most of our advisers and planners are from Coeur d'Alene and some were involved with the Diamond Cup (formerly held on Lake Coeur d'Alene)," said Cook, adding about 20 people from North Idaho are involved in the Arizona event. "We're trying to elevate the sport in a new place with no political or financial baggage, which Coeur d'Alene has a lot of. We have an opportunity to organize a new race in Arizona on a blank sheet of paper with the ability to repeat it elsewhere."
With a strong North Idaho flavor at the Arizona event, Cook said organizing a race on Lake Coeur d'Alene in future years is a possibility, especially if the Lake Pleasant format is successful.
"We have not ruled it out (for Coeur d'Alene), but I would not say that it is our intent at this point," Cook said. "We just started working in earnest (on the Arizona event) a little over a year ago and the permits were granted in September."
Cook, who was involved in the Cd'A 2030 visioning project, said one of the ideas that sprouted from that effort was a festival in the Lake City.
"(A hydroplane-centered festival) could be in line with that idea," Cook said. "We're open to the possibilities, and we understand we'd have to talk to the city leaders, the county and the powers to be to coordinate that. It's all out there."
Besides Cook, a retired Air Force colonel from Hayden, and Stroud, president of Clearwater Services of Idaho and a Marine Corps veteran from Wallace, Dane Dugan, former general manager of the Kootenai County Fairgrounds who resigned on Sept. 1, is involved in planning for the Arizona event.
Signal Point Marketing provided the web design and Paradise Amusements will roll out the carnival. Both are Post Falls businesses.
Fred Finney, who owns Finney Boat Works in Post Falls and operates a cruise boat on Lake Pleasant, and Stroud came up with the idea for the race festival in Arizona, Cook said. Stroud was the captain of boats on Lake Coeur d'Alene, where he first met Finney.
"A couple years ago Fred said to Pat, 'What do you think about this site (Lake Pleasant) for hydroplanes?' and here we are two years later," Cook said.
Cook said Lake Pleasant has an advantage over Lake Coeur d'Alene for such a festival in that it has 5,000 parking spots, more than 600 campsites and 500 boat slips. It also has an abundance of public land around it, whereas Lake Coeur d'Alene has a lot of private property that limits the site size for such an event.
"Landscape drives planning," Cook said.
Unlimited-class hydros with turbine-powered engines have been raced on Coeur d'Alene, whereas the Arizona event will feature Grand Prix-class hydros with super-charged car engines.
"It's very expensive to bring in the Unlimited class," said Cook, adding the Unlimited hydros race on a 2-mile course and Grand Prix a 1.25-mile course.
The theme of the Arizona event will be "Celebrating the Greatness of America: Let Freedom Roar!"
Cook said about 300 volunteers are needed for the Arizona race and, with a lot of snowbirds in the Coeur d'Alene area, he believes some may be interested in volunteering in exchange for having their RV/camp space and meals paid for at the site along with other incentives.
Information: H2OMGFest@gmail.com, 888-728-7999