In Memory

Unlimited hydroplane historian
Farley dies at 71

Milton, Ky., resident will be missed by hydro community

(May 2016) – On April 15, the Madison, Ind., area and the Unlimited and vintage hydroplane community everywhere lost one of its favorite sons in Fred Farley. The Seattle native and Milton, Ky., resident of the past 17 years died while recuperating at Thornton Terrace Health Campus in Hanover, Ind., following emergency heart surgery. He was 71.

Photo courtesy of
Ron Harson

Fred Farley never recovered from an emergency heart surgery in April.

His death came as a surprise and shock to many, considering his illness came on so suddenly. Farley was known to many as the historian of H1 Unlimited Hydroplane racing and hydroplanes in general. Then-Unlimited Racing Commission executive secretary Phil Cole in 1973 asked Farley to serve as the sport’s historian. It was a role Farley gladly accepted. Before then, Farley had already collected a wealth of history on the sport, mainly from hydroplane historian Phil Jursek of Detroit, according to a recent account in the Madison Courier. Jursek had given Farley large amounts of his records on hydroplane racing, dating back to 1903. Farley began writing for the Seattle Seafair race program in those early days before becoming the sport’s historian.
When it came to hydroplane racing, Farley was known to reel off an endless sea of facts off the top of his head – dates, races, years won, drivers, boat histories – Farley knew it all because he loved the sport so much.
Farley grew up in the Seattle area where he worked as a school teacher. But his love and dedication to the sport of hydroplane racing eventually brought him and his wife, Carol, to Milton to live permanently upon his 1999 retirement from teaching, primarily because of the annual Madison Regatta. Farley served on the boards of the Miss Madison race team and the Madison Regatta Inc. committee. He wrote articles for the latter’s annual race program. He also penned hydroplane-related articles on occasion for the Madison Courier and the RoundAbout Madison newspapers, as well as other publications. He teamed with his friend and fellow hydroplane fan, Ron Harsin of Madison, to write and publish five books on the history of the sport. In all, Farley published or co-published five books and hundreds of articles.
“Fred was one of those people who was a walking encyclopedia of information about hydroplane racing,” said Harsin, who often traveled with Farley to hydroplane race sites around the country to photograph and chronicle the races. “When we would travel to races, he knew everything that was going on including behind the scenes. He liked to tell the same stories over and over again, and they were always identical.”
Harsin said Farley loved and protected the sport and insisted that the books they collaborated on would put the sport in a good light “so people would want to go to the races. He really protected that sport because it was something that meant so much to him.”
Harsin said Farley wrote all but about three chapters of the five books, and Harsin did the photography and layout and worked with the publisher on them. “Fred always insisted that it was a 50-50 collaboration. We were a good team together.”
“Fred was a quiet unassuming person who was much, much smarter than what you saw on the surface,” said Joe Hertz, a member of the Madison Regatta Inc. committee who handles publicity. “I had the pleasure of working with Fred on the Regatta board for several years, and he was always one of our go-to people. I leaned on him many times for articles to place in the Regatta race program book, and Fred always delivered with facts and figures only he could provide.
“Speaking for myself and all our Madison Regatta Inc. members, we will miss him and will always remember his contributions to the sport of Unlimited hydroplane racing and our event.”
Dave Johnson of Madison was a close friend of Farley’s. Johnson is a vintage race boat owner and driver, and Farley spent many hours hanging out in Johnson’s boat shop. “It was a complete shock to me and all of the hydroplane community,” Johnson said of Farley’s passing.
The Madison Regatta Inc. plans to pay tribute to Farley at this year’s Regatta.
“Last year, I lost one of my best friends in (former Miss Madison driver) Jon Peddie, then lost one of my biggest mentors in (vintage race boat owner and driver) Billy Cousins (of Trimble County, Ky.), and now Fred. He was a friend of mine going back to 1973. He will be sorely missed.”

In addition to his wife, Farley is survived by a brother, Lawrence, of Clearwater, Fla.

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