An interesting battle is shaping up for the Grand Prix World (GPW) boat races on Guntersville Lake during HydroFest 2019.
Hopp Racing is bringing 2 boats. And father and son Jerry Hopp and Gregg Hopp will be piloting those boats, racing directly against one another.
“Jerry Hopp is 72 years old,” said Bob Wright, who handles public relations for the team. “I asked him, ‘Why do you still drive?’ He said, ‘Because I can.’”
His son Gregg is among the winningest hydroplane racers on the Grand Prix circuit.
Hopp Racing races hard and they play hard too. They had a wonderful time in Guntersville last year and can’t wait to return. They ended up getting a local sponsor for one of their boats, Foodland, and that will happen again this year.
The Hopp boats will be on display at Foodland on Thursday, June 27, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., following the driver meet-and-greet at Guntersville High School that morning.
Wright said at least 6 or 7 Grand Prix boats are coming for the Guntersville race.
“Hopp Racing wholes the kilometer speed record for a Grand Prix hydroplane,” he said. “It was right at 169 miles per hour. The Grand Prix boats are the loud ones. The fans love them.”
He said fans visiting the meet-and-greet and going on pit tours will enjoy themselves.
“Most boat racers are really nice people and they enjoy meeting fans,” he said.
Like a lot of other race teams, Hopp Racing is based in Washington state near the Seattle area. They were driving straight through all the way across the country to get to Guntersville, about 4 days in all of traveling.
It costs between $7,000 and $10,000 for the team to make the weekend trip, Wright said.
Guntersville is a little bit of a different place than what the Washington folks are used to, both considering the climate and the wildlife. It led to an interesting situation in the pits at Jaycees Boat Ramp at Warrenton last year, Wright said.
“It was Friday night and the various teams had finished their work and were sitting around planning the next day’s strategy,” Wright said. “Someone had told them there were snakes in that swamp behind the boat ramp. It was funny to me when I stopped by. Everyone had their chairs facing that swamp. To my knowledge, no one saw a snake though.”
The Hopp team rented a house in Guntersville. Since Foodland was their sponsor, Foodland took care of their food at the house.
“It was Gregg Hopp’s birthday and they even made a real nice birthday cake for him,” Wright said. “It turned out to be quite the party at the house. The people of Guntersville was great. It was just a wonderful weekend and we’re looking forward to doing it again.”
Wright is a Washington Husky fan.
“I came out early last year and went into a couple restaurants wearing my Huskies cap,” he said. “I had a few people buy me drinks and several called out ‘Roll Tide.’ I couldn’t understand it at first."
Then he realized why he was getting that reaction.
Auburn played Washington in the college football season opener last year.
Everyone on the Hopp racing team is a football fan, but they do most of their rooting on Sundays.
“A lot of us get together at the race shop and watch Seahawks games on Sunday afternoons,” Hopp said.
Wright thinks hydroplane racing is the most beautiful of the motorsports.
“You have that blue water and that giant roostertail behind the boat,” he said. “It’s beautiful. And you have that noise pumping out from 1,500 horsepower.”
Hopp Racing did some testing recently.
“We’ve been experimenting with a new skid fin and it handles the turns a lot better,” he said. “We looked lightning fast in practice.”
There’s a brotherhood among the racers. A team from Idaho was sleeping in the pits last year but the “sounds of the swamp” were keeping the crew chief awake at night.
“We took them in at the house we were staying in,” Wright said.
The fuel bill along for a weekend of racing for a Grand Prix team is about $500. Some local folks helped sponsor that last year too, Wright said.
One person who climbed into a Hopp Racing boat for a photo last year was Mayor Leigh Dollar.
She, Randy Jones, neurosurgeon Swaid Swaid and others had a nice visit with the Hopp folks last year.
“We’re excited to have the races coming back,” Dollar said. “The locals are excited and we love to be able to show off our beautiful city for people from all over the country.”