As he grew up on the east side of Detroit, Bob Dabrowski could hear the sounds of the Rolls-Royce and Allison aircraft engines that powered some of the hydroplane fleets owned by Detroit-based businesses along the Detroit River.
That's when Dabrowski, now a West Bloomfield resident, fell in love with the lifestyle and the action that come with hydroplane racing. Through the years, that love has become even more of a passion, fueled by "Racer Bob's" competitive nature.
“When you have two or three boats racing side by side in the water, there is no thrill like that,” he said. “You will do what you have to do to beat your opponent, and you get caught up in that competitive atmosphere.”
This weekend, Dabrowski will be the drivers representative at the 12th annual on Pontiac Lake on the White Lake and Waterford borders. This year's event will also host one of the nation’s premier boat races — the .
While Dabrowski has competed in hundreds of hydroplane races in his career, he is not competing in this one. As drivers representative, he will work this weekend with racers who may have questions or complaints about results or rulings.
He has raced in Quake on the Lake before; many semipro racers like him may compete in up to 10 races each summer on some of the fastest tracks in the United States — but it's not about the prize money.
It's an expensive sport. Dabrowski expects to put a $40,000 engine on his own boat before he starts racing again. Even racers in the “major leagues” of the hydroplane circuit — such as those who competed for the Gold Cup last weekend on the Detroit River — don’t make much, if any, profit from their winnings.
“I’ll miss it for sure, not racing this year,” said Dabrowski, who plans to return to racing when he finds the right engine for his 2.5-liter modified class boat. “My boat is one of the more expensive ones to maintain, and I want to make sure that I am ready to go.
"But (acting as drivers representative) will help me stay involved this weekend.”
Dabrowski began piloting his own hydroplane, a small 2.5-liter stock boat, in 1974. That kicked off almost four decades of racing across the country, from Seattle to Decatur, IL, to St. Petersburg, FL.
He is also a public proponent of the safety procedures of the sport and the advanced safety gear necessary in today’s racing, such as onboard air components, scuba tanks and high-tech helmets.
He was in a racing accident more than a decade ago, and although he was not seriously hurt, it drove home the importance of using the most advanced equipment today.
“The sport today is so much faster, but it is also so much safer,” Dabrowski said. “We have a lot of high-tech safety equipment. We’re literally like a stock car racer when we get into the boats before a race with all the gear we have on.”
The love of hydroplane racing also motivated him to succeed in his professional career as a very busy industrial real estate broker in Metro Detroit.
“If you want it bad enough and work hard enough, you can achieve anything, and I always wanted to be able to afford racing boats for myself,” Dabrowski said. “I made it a goal of mine to be able to afford (the lifestyle).”
The 12th annual Quake on the Lake is held this Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the racing there will be musical acts and live concerts, games and activities for children and a wealth of food and drink options for race fans.
Members of the American Power Boat Association (APBA) last year decided to return the National Inboard Hydroplane Championships to Michigan after 42 years. The last time the hydroplane championships were held in Michigan was in 1969 at Ford Lake near Ypsilanti.
The first round of the hydroplane race is from 1-5 p.m. Saturday. The second round kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and goes until 1 p.m. The championship finals are from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, click