The only thing Art Oberto was worried about as he walked out of the pits was whether he had hit 88 mph.
That’s how old the Oh Boy Oberto patriarch is, for another few weeks anyway, and he wanted to go as fast as his age.
He did that and much more Friday on Lake Washington, the first day of the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair weekend. Oberto took a few laps in a vintage hydroplane to honor his years as a hydroplane sponsor just before qualifying began.
“He’s the flyest guy in the pits,” joked Jimmy Shane, who drives the current version of the boat, which is just called Oberto.
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David Williams, who is the director of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Kent, drove the vintage boat, which hit a top speed of 130 mph. The boat was the 1960 Miss Lumberville, which was restored and painted to match the 1975 Oh Boy Oberto boat. It was used in the 2005 hydroplane movie “Madison.”
“I never even sat in the boat before,” said Oberto, after he found a spot in the shade and he’d been given a once over by two emergency medical technicians.
Oberto still hadn’t heard how fast he’d gone, but he swore he’d live as long as the number. That’s when he found out he hit 130 mph.
“Now I have something to try and go for,” said Oberto, long a popular figure in the hydroplane pits.
This is the last season Oh Boy Oberto will be a sponsor on the hydroplane circuit, ending a run that began when Oberto first sponsored a boat at Seafair in 1975 for Bill Wurster.
His son, Larry Oberto, said back then Seafair was struggling financially and there was a movement among some who lived on Lake Washington to get the races stopped. Art Oberto helped gather signatures to save the races. That’s when he met Wurster and was talked into becoming a sponsor.
Oberto said he would only sponsor that first boat on one condition: He could get 50 pit passes. He was tired of shelling out money for his kids and others in the neighborhood so they could go down and watch the races.
Larry Oberto started pushing his father to take a ride last fall. It took months of convincing — not that you’d have known it Friday.
“The look on his face walking down here,” Larry Oberto said, “... it was like a kid who went out and did devious things.”
For the first 25 years, the Oh Boy Oberto team saw few wins. In 2000, Oberto combined with the Madison team, the city-owned team from Indiana, which saw few wins itself. Once Steve David became the driver, it became one of the great teams in hydroplane racing history.
David and the Oberto won six national titles between 2005-12. Jimmy Shane took over last year and added a seventh.
The Oberto family decided before the season to end sponsorship, but Art Oberto didn’t want to leave the team in the lurch and paid for this season out of his own pocket.
“Hopefully, they’ll be back when they realize the IRO (return on investment) was justified,” said David, who is the interim H1 Unlimited commissioner.
David got to know the family well, driving for the team as long as he did.
“They’re a wonderful family, so there’s a certain melancholy aspect to (today),” he said.
For the second week in a row, Jean Theoret in the Ellstrom Elam Plus was the top qualifier at 150.583 mph. He beat out the Oberto, which posted at 148.880. Ten boats qualified with three not hitting qualifying speeds but the boats will be allowed to qualify again during testing sessions. … The U-3 Go3 Racing (Homestreet Bank for Seafair) boat, the only piston-powered boat in the turbine-powered fleet, was back at Seafair for the first time since 2009. The U-3 is a wild card in the field since it is piston powered, it doesn’t have to conform to the fuel restrictions the turbine boats do. … Saturday’s heat was expanded to three races. Heat 1A will run at 10:10 a.m.; Heat 1B at 11:15 a.m.; and Heat 1C at 11:35 a.m.
U-96 Ellstrom Elam Plus
U-9 Les Schwab/RedDOT
U-27 Dalton Industries
U-3 Homestreet Bank
U-5 Graham Trucking
J. Michael Kelly
U-7 Graham Trucking II
U-21 Albert Lee Appliance
U-11 Peters & May
U-100 Miss Carstar