HISTORY OF THE HAMPTON CUP REGATTA
Article courtesy of Rebecca Perron and The Casemate
In 1926, a group of Hampton Yacht Club
members decided to have a race to see who had the best
navigation skills and which of their boats was the
fastest. That spirit of friendly competition endured,
and decades later it still serves as the catalyst for
one of the most popular competitions in the speedboat
The modern Hampton Cup Regatta attracts
vessels and crews from all corners of the U.S. It has
seen racing teams from Canada, Australia and New
Zealand. It is the place where regional and world
records have been set. It has truly blossomed into an
But the one thing that has not changed
through all these years is the notion of good-spirited
fun, and bragging rights of course, among an
ever-growing community of boat-lovers.
The local regatta story begins on the
Hampton River in the area between the downtown Crowne
Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel and the inlet near the
Veterans Administration Medical Center (back then, it
was called the National Home for Volunteer Soldiers
The first motorized race boats were, of
course, made of wood, which was far heavier than the
carbon-fiber materials used today. Their drivers
didn't have proper seats but instead crouched on their
knees inside the boats. The controls were primitive
hand throttles instead of today's foot pedals, and
drivers had to physically lean into each turn simply
to steer. Seat belts, too, were many years away. The
top speed of the fastest boats was around 35 mph -
which was thrilling for the time.
For the first few years, winners
collected friendly wagers and the aforementioned
esteem that accompanied the knowledge of having the
fastest vessel. Most competitors drove their boats to
the race, competed, and headed home.
Somewhere around the 1930s, the Dodge
automobile family ventured into boat building in
Norfolk. They created a trophy called the Dodge Cup,
which they began presenting to the winner of the
Hampton Cup Regatta.
"It was the pride and joy of the event
for decades, said John Lowe, a former race committee
chairman. "I remember seeing them put the names of the
winners on the cup at the event every year.
"Unfortunately, nobody knows where the
Dodge Cup went after the 75th race," he said. "We kept
it in a bank vault in between races, but committee
members come and go, so one of them may have it. We
did design and make another trophy in the meantime."
Lowe hopes that one day the Dodge Cup
will be discovered and put on display at the Hampton
Those early races also introduced an
ever-evolving assortment of hull and engine upgrades,
safer cockpits for drivers and better organized
categories for competing boats.
The design improvements that may have
had the most impact on the sport came from Henry
Lauterbach out of Norfolk. Starting in the 1940s, he
constructed more than 200 hydroplanes by hand; and
each one showed his meticulous attention to detail.
During the 1950s, Henry was the National High Point
Champion in three different APBA inboard classes and
was inducted into the APBA Hall of Fame in 1956.
Bill Sterett out of Owensboro, Ky., was
another accomplished regatta racer. One of his racing
vessels was dubbed the "Miss Chrysler Crew," and it
became the only boat in the post-World War II era to
win an Unlimited Race with automotive power - a pair
of 426-cubic-inch supercharged Chrysler hemispherical
For the next couple of decades, power
and speed became the name of the game for racers.
Boats with modified automobile engines became the
standard and the speed of those vessels eventually
became too fast for the turns in the Hampton River.
"So the race was moved out to the open
waters off Strawberry Banks," Lowe said. "This proved
to be dangerous because of the conditions and boats
traveling in and out of the race field. That's when it
was moved to its current location in Mill Creek,
between Fort Monroe and the East Mercury Boulevard
Bridge in the mid-1970's."
Lowe said it has become the best place
to race and to set world records, since it is
well-protected from current changes and adverse water
conditions. The density of the relatively shallow
water also contributes to the speed of the racing
Today, the Hampton Cup Regatta is
sanctioned by the APBA - the American Power Boat
Association (APBA). and the regatta falls within
Region 4 of the APBA, and its home host club is the
Hampton Cup Racing Club.
Race committees from the various
divisions must put in a bid two years prior to see
which event they will receive for the upcoming season.
In some years, the World Inboard Hydroplane
Championship has been awarded to the Hampton Cup
Regatta, and in others, the Regatta has been the host
to the North American Championships, Summer Nationals
or Eastern Divisions (Regardless of which race is
awarded, it is always scheduled on the second or third
weekend of August. The date of the race depends on the
While regatta courses are fairly
standard in layout, the length can vary depending on
the available space and the type of race that is being
run. (The Hampton course this year is 1.5 miles in
total length and it just pasted its required
certification conducted every 10 years).
An event of this magnitude would not be
possible without the all-volunteer organization. There
are about 25 dedicated volunteers who meet year round
to put on the event, as well as a huge number of race
weekend volunteers, security personnel and other
"We receive a tremendous amount of
support from Fort Monroe, the City of Hampton, the
Hampton Department of Fire and Rescue, the Hampton
Police and the Nightingale Helicopter.
Without these people, there would be no
racing, You would not believe the hours put in to make
this event run smoothly and the cooperation between
the committee members, boat racing club, all of the
volunteers, the City of Hampton and Fort Monroe, which
is the key to success."
The final, and most important, element
of the regatta is its racing families .
"That's what keeps us going ... that
spirit of family and tradition, as well as the need to
keep this thing alive for future generations," Lowe
said. "Throughout race weekend, you're going to hear a
lot about boats, drivers and who won what, where. But
the personal story also will be there; who's deployed
and serving their country, who the third and fourth
generation racers are, who couldn't be here this year
because they're having trouble. That's the heart of
the regatta story."