Knoxville, Tennessee is known for being the home of the 1982 World’s Fair, a healthy population of Red Pandas, some of the finest museums in the South and of course, its native son, Kenny Chesney. It is also home to the Visit Knoxville Grand Prix of Tennessee, the third stop of the 2019 season for the Hydro-Cross National Tour.
Limited, at least currently, to the Pro Sport Class, the Hydro-Cross Nationals tour is run in conjunction with the Powerboat Nationals and is sanctioned by IJSBA, with each Hydro-Cross Nationals event counting as a qualifying event for the IJSBA World Finals in Havasu.
Rounds 1 and 2 of this year’s Hydro-Cross tour took place Tavares, Florida, in April and May, but the first weekend in June brought Hydro-Cross competitors to the shores of the Tennessee RIver in downtown Knoxville, where the rivalries set in motion at Tavares continued, but with a wild card thrown in the mix. Lining up for the tour’s trademark rolling start alongside tour points leader Tom “Killer” Keller, 2018 champion Kyle Hayes, and the rest of the Hydro-Cross racers was the blue and orange Yamaha of Kings Cup World Champion, Christian Daly.
Fresh off helping in the pits as his brother Conor Daly put in a 10th-place finish at the Indianapolis 500, Daly clearly came to race, and to win, and despite his late entry into the tour, he found his rhythm, putting in fast time trials, pulling off wins in the early heats, and nailing down a win in the main event on Sunday, despite some heavy challenges form the rest of the pack.
“Kelly Smith was right there, he was for sure giving me a run for my money,” Daly said in an interview with race announcer Mikey Young following the race.
Breaking into the Hydro-Cross Nationals Tour meant some change-ups for Daly – change-ups that the other riders have come to appreciate in this newest of the watercross tours. Unlike the familiar starting band shore starts, HydroCross uses rolling starts, and routinely challenges riders with a Joker Buoy, adding an extra measure of strategy and planning to the race. Hydro-Cross also stands out from many current opportunities for watercross racers, offering relatively significant purses that pay out well past first through third place.
“I was really impressed with this whole group, it was awesome to put on a great show for the fan, and I really think the joker buoy is a great idea … it adds that next level to racing,” said Daly, who recently joined the Broward Motorsports Racing team.
“All our events are televised (…) 70 million households will see our events,” Hydro-Cross acting race director Rex Hayes said during an interview with the Cardone Race Corner following the Knoxville race, adding that the Knoxville races will be televised at 8 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. on July 6. “We formulate our race off the Supercross format, single lap time trials Saturday morning, it’s you again; the clock and the fastest guy out there has the pole position for heat one. We run Heat 1 and 2 on Saturday, then on Sunday we do an LCQ and then the main event, and that is where the money is paid.”
Hydrocross standard event purse is $4,800, with payments to 1st through 10th place, from $1,200 for a win, to $200 for 8th through 10th. The upcoming race at Guntersville, Alabama on June 29-30, is a double-payout race, featuring a $10,000 purse, with $2,500 to win, and even 8th-10th getting $400 each.
“Our goal is to put together a three hour event per day, where we can provide good entertainment, a pro lineup, and avoid the craters that the sport has fallen in before,” Hayes said.
“Next year we have some things in mind. We’re going to stir the pot quite a bit next year,” he added. “We might just make jet ski racing great again…that’s our goal.”
HydroCross Nationals Round 3 – Knoxville, TN Results 1. Christian Daly, 2. Kelly Smith, 3. Keith Dill, 4. Tom Keller, 5. Eric Degler, 6. Kyle Hayes, 7. Wyatt Hayes, 8. Mike Hamaker, 9. Logan Hayes, 10.Matt Johnson, 11. Brian O’Rourke