Our Northwest

Oberto returns to support local races, extend legacy

Wednesday, July 27, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
Local company Oberto is stepping up to bolster two local community traditions by again sponsoring a hydroplane.
     Last year, the Kent-based manufacturer of beef jerky, pepperoni, and other meat snacks stepped aside after sponsoring a raceboat each year since 1975. But now, Oberto will sponsor the hydro owned by the Ellstrom family of Ballard at the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup and Seattle Seafair races.
     It's welcome news for a hydro fleet that already saw one boat wrecked in a flip last month in Madison, Ind., while other boats stayed home for lack of sponsorship.
     “Oberto is committed to the Seattle community,” said Tom Hernquist, CEO of Oberto Brands last Friday. “Hydroplane racing is a beloved part of summertime in Seattle.”
     Oberto then added Tri-Cities to its encore, as well.
     "Local company helps out local tradition" is a familiar theme. When Ivar's Seafood Restaurants stopped sponsoring Seattle's July 4 fireworks after 44 years, JPMorgan Chase & Co. paid for the bulk of the 2009 fireworks show. That was after Chase had acquired local icon Washington Mutual.
     Now, the July 4 extravaganza is part of the Seafair Summer Fourth, sponsored by several local brands including Amazon, Microsoft, and Alaska Airlines.
     Seafair's hydro race itself was in peril in 1975 when, after a disastrous one-year relocation to Sand Point in 1974, it faced fiscal doom. Costs had spiraled upward, and by law the city of Seattle wasn't allowed to charge admission at the traditional race site along Lake Washington Boulevard. So for 1974 the race moved north to Sand Point, where an admission fee, choppy water, and dusty venue with poor sight lines nearly doomed future races.
     Seattle's KIRO-TV came to the rescue with a "Save Our Hydros" telethon that generated donations to race at the traditional site in 1975, where it thrives today now that admission fees are allowed.
     And of course, although it's a professional sports team rather than a community event, who can forget local resident and visionary Paul Allen saving our Seahawks in 1996, when previous owner Ken Behring had already shipped the team's assets via moving vans to Southern California?
     Come to think of it, I guess the Seahawks are an event. Like, eight times every fall.
     My PEMCO colleague, part of the Oberto family, thinks it's great the home-grown company is back with the hydros, for two races at least.
     "I think the outcry over leaving the sport and the local support from the fans really convinced them to go back to their roots and support a local boat at the local races," said Brenda Oberto. "The family still loves racing and is involved in events around the community.
     "Hopefully, Art (Oberto) will be back in the pits in his signature outfit and hat, where he belongs, chatting with fans," she said.
     Read the Oberto news release, and watch the HAPO Columbia Cup in Tri-Cities this weekend.

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