HPROP: Gary Garbrecht interview

(Lake Hamilton, Fla.)- New HydrosTM owner HYDRO-PROP, Inc. has been busy since announcing its acquisition last week in Detroit. HYDRO-PROP is a new company headed by chairman and long-time unlimited hydroplane team owner Bernie Little and ...

(Lake Hamilton, Fla.)- New HydrosTM owner HYDRO-PROP, Inc. has been busy since announcing its acquisition last week in Detroit. HYDRO-PROP is a new company headed by chairman and long-time unlimited hydroplane team owner Bernie Little and veteran marine executive Gary Garbrecht. Garbrecht, who will serve as president, answered a few questions regarding the new company and his plans for unlimited racing.

Q. What is your background?

A. I've been in the motorsports and the marine industry my whole life. I began my career in the marine industry in 1964 as a driver, research engineer and project manager for Mercury Marine. In 1968, I formed the Mercury factory racing team, which we ran until it disbanded in 1979. In 1979, I was promoted to Director of Mercury's newly-created, stand-alone High Performance Division, which to this day manufacturers and sells high-performance marine products.

In 1985, I began a program that centered all of Outboard Marine's high performance programs out of my Second Effort company in Florida. Johnson and Evinrude engines won hard-fought world titles and sliced into Mercury's dominant high performance image. We also set a world straightaway kilo record of 176 mph for a single-engine, outboard-powered hydroplane, which still stands today.

In 1989, due to a contractual agreement, I sold Second Effort to Outboard Marine. I then decided to branch out on my own after winning nine Formula One world titles en route to establishing high performance divisions for two different engine companies and manufacturing a full line of high performance engines and accessories.

In 1994, we formed the PROP Formula One Tour, which was suffering from similar woes that unlimited racing is facing today...not enough race sites, not enough boats and no parity. In 2000, the Formula One Tour will visit eight major metropolitan cities with twenty-five-plus boats and entertain more than 67 million spectators both on-site and via ESPN2 television coverage.

Q. Why did you acquire the UHRA?

A. For the last four years, I have been trying to figure out what to do with Formula One to take it to the next level. There were some different directions that I could have gone in. One day I was sitting in Bernie's office busting his chops about the disorganization of unlimited racing and I told him to buy the darn thing. He told me that he would do it if I would run it. The more we talked about it, the more excited we got. So we did it. The timing was right.

I've been concentrating the past year on my golf handicap. I really wanted to be a single-digit handicap golfer. And I still do. I went from a 26 to 11, which isn't bad for an old guy, but the last few strokes are tough. I think that I can accomplish success in unlimited racing...I'm not so sure about the golf.

Seriously, though, it also provided me the opportunity to do a few things that I haven't done in my life. One, I wanted to work closely with Bernie because I have known him for 35 years. I always admired the way he does things...he does them right. It is tough to find people today that don't cut corners in one form or another...I've never known Bernie to do that. He's a first class, stand-up guy. If he has something to say, he says it. I'm the same way...people are going to hear the bottom line from me.

And one thing that people will find out is that when I say that I am going to do something, I get it done. When I give my word, it will get done.

Q. How will you and co-owner Bernie Little work together?

A. Bernie and I are 50-50 partners. Bernie does a lot of things very well, including raising money. So, we have divided up the responsibilities...Bernie will be responsible for raising the money and I'll be responsible for getting the company organized and running it. So, there is a clear definition of duties and should not be much overlap. I am very comfortable with it. We will bring organization and parity to the sport in the near future.

Q. What is the most important issue facing unlimited racing?

A. Well, I've only been to the last two races, so that is a tough question. But there are a lot of issues, I can tell you that. I think that I can comfortably say, however, that getting our organization together is the most important issue. We have some good people, but not a very good organization. I am a believer in giving people responsibilities and letting them do their job. I guarantee you that we are going to have a streamlined organization that will be very effective for our fans, sponsors, race promoters and teams.

Q. When do you plan to have your new organization in place?

A. We expect to have the new organization in place by San Diego. That is our last race of the year, so that will be a good time for everyone involved to begin preparing for the 2001 season. I expect to move the office from Seattle to Florida by the end of September. The PROP Formula One Tour, which I also own, is located here in Florida. So, it makes sense for us to combine the efforts to utilize the resources we already have in place. We have already moved some of the functions to Florida. There is going to be a transition period, for sure, but I have a lot of confidence in Mike Jones, president of the APBA (American Power Boat Association). I am looking forward to working through the transition with him.

Q. What are some of the other issues that you will address?

A. In a single word: parity. Attaining parity among the competitors is critical. There is no question that you have a real imbalance in one boat versus the rest. I don't know, yet, how we are going to deal with that. They have been working with a fuel restriction program in 2000. The time spread that Miss Budweiser has been winning by has been tightening as a result. I don't know that it is all bad. My initial reaction was that it was bad because it is really handicapping one boat. On the other hand, when you have such a dramatic difference in performance you have to address it in some way or another. There has to be a handicap method to keep the playing field even. I'm not so sure that this isn't a bad way to do it. However, I think that I will be in a much better position to comment at the end of the season. At that time, we will make a decision to either scrap it or keep working with it.

Q. You plan to make this a bit of a family affair don't you?

A. I spent most of my life working, working pretty hard. My family didn't see much of me while they were growing up. My wife did a fantastic job of raising my kids. I had a chance to work with my oldest son Alan on many of the Second Effort programs as well as the Mach Propeller development for several years. For the past two years I've had a chance to work with my younger son Bart and my daughter Amy. This is a real blessing. Bart and Amy will be a big part of this program not only because they are my kids and have been running the day-to-day operations of the Formula One program for last two years, but because they believe in this program as strongly as I do.

Q.How many races will there be in 2001?

A. Well, that falls under Bernie's responsibility. Obviously, we're going to work together on this because with the Formula One tour, we have some good race sites where we can take the unlimiteds. And we can take the Formula One boats to all of the unlimited venues. So, we will be bringing a lot of value to the fans and race promoters. I would envision having a twelve-race schedule.

Bernie has a hit list of race sites that he would like to be at. We have had tremendous interest from a lot of different people since we bought the series a week ago. Maybe I am imagining it, but everyone is looking forward. I have seen a lot of enthusiasm. And it pleases me very much because I wasn't sure what to expect.

Q. How have you been received by the owners, drivers and promoters? A.One of the things that gives me the enthusiasm that we have is that I went to Evansville before we completed the purchase. I spoke with all of the owners and drivers...most of them knew of me, but really didn't know me personally. I talked with them about the direction I want to go and how I operate. They are all calling it a dictatorship and they are probably right. But I also take a lot of input before we dictate what we do. The input is going to come from those guys. I am amazed by the confidence and the comfort level that they already have. I don't think they are used to a guy running the thing who hangs around the pit area until dark and comes back early in the morning. When I do something, I learn all of the facets. I want to know how everything works. I don't think they are used to that. I think they are seeing that I want to learn what is going on and know the people so that we can make this work. I am really, really happy. I think that we are going to work together really well.

Q. How is the current situation with unlimiteds similar to or different than the PROP Formula One Tour when you acquired that series six years ago?

Q. It's not all that different.  Formula One was in the same shape that
unlimiteds are in today.  And we have that organized.  It took five years to
get it where we wanted it.  The good thing is that I stopped losing money
after the third year.  And it's been on the upswing ever since.  We've had
good competition and had twenty-five boats at the last race.  So, we've done
it before.  There are no secrets.

Q.How many unlimited boats would you like to have?

A. For now, I'd like to have twelve. I think we can get to eleven and possibly twelve next year. Ideally, I'd like to have sixteen, but it's going to take a while. There is some talent out there. If we can demonstrate that we can get the job done, maybe we can get some of these guys back. Q. How will you know when you have been successful?

A. I guess I'll be told when we are successful. The fans, sponsors, promoters and teams will tell us. If you screw up in the marine business, everybody knows you are a screw up. I've seen a lot of guys come and go. When we have twelve boats and we see the kind of races we saw in Heat 3A at Detroit where you have a couple of boats side by side for two of the three laps and you start seeing the competition getting real tight, that will be success. That will turn the fans on and it will snowball from there.

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