10-5-23: MADISON COURIER, article by David Campbell: Miss Madison Racing will have a new primary sponsor for the 2024 season and team president Charlie Grooms has big plans for the future of the sport in developments the team released on Monday.
Grooms spoke at length with local media about the future of not only the team that he has been a part of for 44 years, but also a governing body that he says has done “an absolutely horrendous job in putting a quality product on the water.”
“Everybody that you talk to has an issue with this sport and there’s always a whole bunch of different issues,” Grooms said. “And I couldn’t argue with any of those issues.”
For the past eight seasons, Miss Madison Racing has run under the sponsorship of Seattle-based HomeStreet Bank and the relationship has been a successful one. The partnership won five National High Points Championships and four APBA Gold Cups while claiming 16 race wins, all tops in the sport since 2016.
But that partnership ended abruptly this summer when HomeStreet Bank President Mark Mason informed Grooms that they would be ending the sponsorship. The news came as a surprise to Grooms, especially considering that the team had just signed a new two-year agreement in December 2022.
“He called me right before the (season-opening) Guntersville race. I was literally driving in downtown Nashville on my way to the race when he called,” Grooms said. “Needless to say, it was a surprise.”
Miss Madison Racing knew before the first race of the season that HomeStreet was done, but there was still the issue of the two-year contract. According to Grooms, the uncertainty around the sponsorship made it difficult for the Miss Madison team to operate and after the team’s second boat, the U-91 Goodman Real Estate, flipped at Guntersville, the team’s financial abilities were strained.
HomeStreet Bank officially terminated its contract with Miss Madison on Aug. 15 and shortly thereafter, Mason sent a letter to crew members that was leaked to the media thanking them for their years of service.
Grooms was reluctant at the time to discuss the sponsorship until the contract situation was cleared up. A few weeks ago, the two sides came to an agreement and Grooms felt he was able to talk about the situation.
“(HomeStreet) had a multi-year contract. They had a desire to continue. It certainly was not for circumstances that were of our making or theirs. It was beyond anyone’s control,” Grooms said. “The marketplace interest rates did significant damage to their business and we just kind of fell victim to that. There’s certainly an interest on their part to continue to support us, to continue to support Seafair (in Seattle) and Bayfair (in San Diego). But conditions got to the point where it just didn’t make any sense to continue.”
At the same time that Grooms was working through HomeStreet’s exit, he also was in the process of locking down Goodman Real Estate to a multi-year sponsorship deal.
The Seattle-based Goodman joined the Miss Madison team during the COVID-canceled 2020 season and has sponsored the team’s second boat for the past three seasons. Company owner John Goodman has long desired to make a bigger splash in the sport and, with HomeStreet stepping aside, Goodman is filling the void.
Starting in 2024, the Goodman Real Estate colors will fly on Miss Madison Racing’s primary boat, the 2018-vintage craft that has run as HomeStreet Bank the past five seasons. Andrew Tate, who drove the Goodman entry last season, will move over to the new boat and continue his duties.
The question of what happens to the team’s second boat, as well as driver Dylan Runne, is still unresolved. Grooms said that he considers Runne to be a “member of the family” and is hopeful that there is a place for him with the team moving forward.
As for the older boat, which was overhauled before last year’s crash and repaired afterwards, the team has several options including finding another sponsor or using it as a back-up boat for the season. Grooms’ first inclination is to find a buyer for the boat.
Grooms said selling the boat isn’t just about bringing in cash or concentrating once again on being a one-boat team, it’s also about freeing up time to help the sport.
“I think at this time, we should really focus our attention as a team on running one boat at the highest level instead of running two boats,” Grooms said. “With that, we can spend as much time as we can focusing on helping the sport, helping the sites, and helping the city in their endeavors to promote the city. There’s a lot of good things going on outside of us running boats that we’d really like to focus on.”
For the past several years, Grooms has been working on a multi-part plan to revitalize the sport. He has been talking with sponsors and executives in other racing series and, with the approval of several other team owners and race sites, he’s ready to move forward.
While Grooms is not ready to discuss specifics, like many fans, he is upset at the way the sport has been managed the past several years.
“The racing on the water has been fantastic, but half the time you have no idea who won the race until it is well over,” Grooms said. “In my opinion, the sport has done a piss-poor job on the fan experience, whether it’s with promotion or just letting you know who won the race. Fans should never leave the beach not knowing who won the race and if something needs to be done a few days later because of tech inspection or what have you, then so be it. But our first priority should always be making things better for the fans and not making late calls or canceling final heats two weeks in a row.”
Grooms said that he hopes to have an announcement in the next month or two and until then, plans on continuing to put the pieces into place.
“We’re ready to move forward,” Grooms said. “We think that it will be a good thing for the fans. But at this point, we really have nothing to lose. The sport is about as low as it can go. We only have one way we can go.”