Q&A with Ken Muscatel about San Diego
With so much discussion surrounding the news out of San Diego, the ABRA felt Ken Muscatel (a driver, owner, promoter and ABRA Board Member) might be able to help answer some of the possible questions from fans and explain ABRA's position and events leading up to the decision of dropping San Diego from the unlimited schedule:
1. What was the problem between San Diego and ABRA?
Actually, there is no problem per se. San Diego, like all other race sites, has to pay a fee for the boats to be able to come, but because of money problems has been having serious difficulties. Three years ago sponsorship help was obtained at the last minute to bring the boats, but that came from one of the teams, not from the San Diego race. The last two years the racing fees were paid for by Race Marketing Partners, a group that Barbara Carper and myself put together very much at the last minute in 2007 to preserve the unlimited race, but unfortunately, despite a significant sponsorship from the Boeing Company and San Diego Union Tribune our effort failed financially, in large part because the event failed to attract enough paying fans. At this point, it is up to the San Diego board to pay for the U boats to come, or to let them go. Having been on the board I know the organization is in no financial position to do that and many on the board felt they shouldn’t pay for any of the attractions. Unfortunately, that’s where it stands today. The ABRA didn’t want our fans to think we were coming if it was clear that this was not going to happen, so we put out the announcement. If San Diego is able to raise the money we’ll be back in a heartbeat.
2. What did we learn?
We learned that the event was on shaky financial ground and needed help in marketing and sales. This is not really much of a secret. They put on a nice event from an operational perspective, and it’s a great site, but drawing a paying crowd remains a challenge that we just couldn’t overcome. The event’s footprint in San Diego is now very small, and getting the attention of the community was tough. We spent a lot of time and money trying, with limited success.
3. When was the last year that SD was really able to hold their own?
San Diego hasn’t been able to pay the full race fee on its own for the past three years, since 2005.
4. Before the group you lead came into SD, who else has tried to help out the committee over the last few years?
Prior to Race Marketing Partners Erick Ellstrom brought in some additional sponsors to preserve the event in 2006- that was the UIM World Championship event.
5. Is this committee supportive of the unlimited hydroplanes?
The committee in San Diego has mixed feelings about the Unlimiteds, I think primarily driven by financial/cost concerns. If the U boats would race for free, the only way they could afford to have us, we would of course be welcome, but the committee has been unable to raise anything near the level of sponsorship needed to preserve our participation.
It important that our fans understand that extraordinary efforts have been made in the past three years to support San Diego above and beyond what any other race has received. The ABRA as an entity is just a sanctioning body with neither the means nor the resources to support races on their own. That is why Barb Carper and I assembled a group of investors in 2007 to save the event. What many people don’t understand is that it wasn’t until ten days before the 2007 race that the U boat participation was secured! The committee did not have the funds and was not able to pay the fees for us to come, yet it had been promoted as an Unlimited race.
RMP, consisting of stalwarts in our sport such as Bob Hughes, Jane Schumacher, Greg O’Farrell, Kim Gregory (rest his soul), Fran Muncey, Dave Bartush, Carper and me stood up, put up the money and the guarantees to keep the race in 2007 and make the best effort for it to succeed in 2008.
Barb and I went back and forth from Seattle to San Diego an average of twice a month, served on the Board of Director of Thunderboats Unlimited Club (TUC), put in hundreds of hours and spent enough money to make our hair stand on end, but to no avail.
At times our relations with the board were difficult, but everyone on that board tried their best and their hearts were (and are) in the right place. This outcome wasn’t for a lack of trying, and it upsets all of us that things have come to this point, but there were just no alternatives left.
I’d be happy to address any other questions people might have about San Diego. Thanks for listening.