Speed boat racing is set to return to the Connecticut River this summer.
The ChampBoat Series said Monday that it has reached an agreement with Hartford to return for a weekend of racing in mid-August. The sport drew promising crowds during its first visit in 2006, but the races didn't return the following year.
What drew ChampBoat back was the city's riverfront setting and a decision by the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau and Riverfront Recapture to take over the event from a private promoter.
"This is a popular crowd-pleasing event with the potential to grow bigger and bigger," said H. Scott Phelps, president of the visitors bureau.
Renamed the Riverfront Grand Prix, the two days of racing will take place at the foot of Founders Bridge. The city will be the sixth stop on the ChampBoat Series' 10-city summer tour. The speedboats circle a river course at speeds of more than 140 mph for trials and a final race.
Hartford provides the racing tour a stop in the Northeast on a river that lends itself to spectators and TV coverage. ChampBoat is trying to build its New England fan base and expects the Hartford event to draw a regional audience, said Michael Schriefer, president of the North Carolina-based racing series.
In return, organizers said, Hartford and East Hartford have a chance to host one of the largest riverfront events of the year. Riverfront Recapture said the series can draw up to 25,000 fans each day in good weather.
The visitors bureau will pay the cost of security, event setup and other services for the races. Riverfront Recapture will oversee the production of the event, which Joe Marfuggi, president and CEO of the riverfront organization, estimated would cost the two organizations $25,000.
Financing had been a challenge in the past. The 2006 event drew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people to watch the races near the Charter Oak Bridge. But the promoter, Grand Prix Hartford, said the races were unprofitable and approached city officials about charging admission to watch them — a request that was rejected. As a result, no races were held in 2007.
Milford-based Grand Prix Hartford did not return a call on Monday seeking comment.
The new agreement with the visitors bureau is for one year, but both sides say they plan to make the series an annual event if it is successful.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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