AutoMatters & More: 2018 San Diego Bayfair boat races on Mission Bay


Only once each year does the City of San Diego exercise a special permit to hold a noisy boat race, in the course of which unmuffled racing boat engines may be used by the contestants. So it is that the screaming H1 Unlimited hydroplanes, Grand Prix World Supercharged Hydroplanes and others are allowed to race in the beautiful, usually peaceful and tranquil, Mission Bay – nestled in between East Vacation Island and Fiesta Island in Mission Bay Park. For those spectators with RVs, this was one of the few opportunities to stay overnight in the park.

No matter when you may have arrived on this three-day weekend in September, you surely would have noticed the tall cranes that picked up each hydroplane from its pits, lifted them high into the air and then, ever so carefully, rotated them around to the neat row of docks in the waters on the shore of Mission Bay. After each heat, before the boats were returned to their pits, they paused in mid-air over the bay’s edge to be liberally hosed down with fresh water, to remove the corrosive salt water.

Working on the boats in between races.
(Jan Wagner)

We learn from the history of San Diego Bayfair (see that this major motorsports event dates all the way back to 1964. It was the vision of legendary Unlimited hydroplane racer Bill Muncey, namesake of the gold, perpetual Muncey Cup.

Except for the salt water (as opposed to fresh water), this venue is ideal for hydroplane racing. The shorelines of these two man-made islands were purposefully curved to accommodate a 2.5-mile oval course, and the beaches were sloped to dissipate waves from the motorboats and hydroplanes. The parking lot and launch ramp on East Vacation Island was designed as a pit area for hydroplanes and their cranes. Even the light posts were set in a line to facilitate easy access for the hydroplanes, trucks and equipment. Factor in the location – the host city of San Diego, which is a renowned, worldwide vacation destination – and it is no wonder that this event returns year after year.

Giant crane lifts a hydroplane as the salt water is washed off.
(Jan Wagner)

H1 Unlimited hydroplanes, racing under the sanction of the American Power Boat Association, are the fastest racing boats in the world (

The gas turbine engine typically found in Unlimited hydroplanes is from the twin rotor Chinook helicopter that was used in the Vietnam War and remains in use to this day, for firefighting and other purposes.

The Lycoming T55 L7 gas turbine powering the U-21 driven by Brian Perkins produces up to 3,000 hp, propelling his 7,000-pound hydroplane to a top speed of over 200 mph on the straights! This produces a 60-foot tall, 300-foot long rooster tail of water.

This hydroplane suffered a leak and took on water.
(Jan Wagner)

The San Diego Bayfair racecourse is the longest and fastest on the H1 Unlimited hydroplane circuit. The World Lap Speed Record of 173.384 mph was set here in 1999 by driver Dave Villwock.

San Diego Bayfair was the final event of the season for the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes. It drew fans from around the world to see the competition for the Muncey Cup – won last year by Andrew Tate and again in 2018, driving the U-9 Jones Racing Delta/Realtrac Unlimited hydroplane. He is the 2018 National High Points Champion, followed by Jimmie Shane, driver of the U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank hydroplane (see

HomeStreet Bank was the title sponsor of San Diego Bayfair 2018. Unfortunately, Jimmy Shane’s U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank (the former Miss Madison) was unable to start its final race on Sunday due to the minor, but costly, mechanical failure of a spark plug igniter box.

Racing against the San Diego skyline.
(Jan Wagner)

Also racing were the piston-powered Grand Prix World Supercharged Hydroplanes – the largest, fastest and loudest of the automotive-powered race boats. These reach top speeds of 150 mph. Many of their drivers are from the ranks of the Unlimiteds. John R. Grigg Jr drove the yellow and red GP 52 Wanna Bee Racing hydroplane.

In addition to three days of racing, spectators enjoyed the large vendor area on East Vacation Island, Kids’ Zone, beer garden and great BBQ.

Speaking of BBQ, America’s Finest BBQ State Championship (sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society) partnered with San Diego Bayfair in Crown Point Park. It featured more than 40 teams firing up barbeques for BBQ chicken, pork and beef.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #559r1