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Honing their craft
Pacecraft on way to Australia for hovercraft celebration

By Suzanne Risley/Tribune Star
22 Jan. 2004

The HoverWorld Expo 2004 "pacecraft" on Wednesday began a five-week journey that will span two oceans before its arrival in Australia for a yearlong celebration of hovercraft racing.

The pacecraft was sealed in a cargo container Wednesday afternoon at Neoteric Hovercraft Inc. on Tippecanoe Street. It will be taken by railroad to the Port of New York, from which it will sail down the Eastern Seaboard, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean, said Kim Hopwood, ocean export forwarding agent for the shipping company Schenker Inc.

The next time it will see the light of day will be in mid-March when Australian customs officials open it, said Chris Fitzgerald, Neoteric president and Expo organizer.

After being exhibited throughout Australia, the pacecraft will be featured in the HoverWorld Expo 2004, starting Dec. 28, in Canberra, Australia.

The Expo serves a dual purpose: the introduction of international endurance hovercraft racing and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first hovercraft race, for which Canberra served as the site.

"I'm sort of getting into the event business. I see that as a way to get the word out about hovercraft," Fitzgerald said. Hovercraft are amphibious vehicles that ride on a cushion of air.

He also organized the 2002 World Hovercraft Championship race, staged in Terre Haute in September 2002. The 2004 event will be in September in Berlin. The world championship race is run every two years.

While knowledge about the sport has grown since its first race on March 14, 1964, on Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin, it still is not widely known, Fitzgerald said.

Canberra is the national capital of Australia. Much like Washington, D.C., it is independently governed. Located between Melbourne and Sydney, it is the largest inland city in Australia.

The events raise awareness among the public that this kind of technology exists and can be used in practical ways, Fitzgerald said. He has worked with the U.S. Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, Disney World and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

"As the sport becomes more popular, it becomes more competitive," he said.

Races generally are short, Fitzgerald said, which makes the Australian Expo unique. Endurance racing can lead to better and more reliable craft, he said.

Fitzgerald also hopes to contact enough of the original 18 competitors from 1964 to stage a pioneer race. So far, he has found seven, including himself. At least one has died with whereabouts unknown for the remaining 10.

"There will be a lot of people from Terre Haute there," he said. Crew members and several of those who helped stage the world championship in 2002 are going. It's an excellent reason to visit Australia, his native country, he said.

He also hopes that about 70 schools from the United States will participate with hovercraft they have built, through the DiscoverHover program he established last year.

"We're trying to attract schools to build craft," he said, adding Indiana State University reportedly is working on one. DiscoverHover will pay the craft's shipping costs for schools participating.

Suzanne Risley can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or suzanne.risley@tribstar.com.

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