History Lesson: San Diego Bayfair

Hydroplane legend Bill Muncey
San Diego Bayfair is celebrating 60 years on Mission Bay and is one of Southern California’s largest beach festivals.

San Diego Bayfair has a long and rich tradition in Mission Bay Park. The first race was staged in 1964 thanks to the foresight of the great Unlimited hydroplane racer Bill Muncey, who was the driving force in getting the racecourse built to host Bayfair.

A Master Plan for Mission Bay was approved by the City of San Diego in 1958 and set in motion the creation of the racecourse between East Vacation Island and Fiesta Island. (Neither island existed until a massive dredging project formed them.) The shorelines were curved to accommodate a 2.5-mile oval course and beaches were sloped to dissipate waves from motorboats and hydroplanes.

The parking lot and launch ramp on East Vacation Island was designed as a pit area for hydroplanes. The light posts were set in a line to facilitate easy access for the hydroplanes, trucks and equipment.

To ensure boat racing on Mission Bay, San Diego Municipal Code allows “to hold a boat race in the course of which unmuffled engines may be used by the contestants… for a period of time not exceeding ten (10) days in all.” The Municipal Code also includes, “In addition to the aforementioned 10 day permit, the Director may issue a permit for unlimited hydroplane racing, provided such permit shall be for a period of time not exceeding four (4) additional days in any calendar year.”

The 2.5-mile racecourse, which was named after the late Bill Muncey, is the longest and fastest racecourse on the H1 Unlimited hydroplane circuit. Driver Dave Villwock set the World Lap Speed Record of 173.384 mph in 1999 at Bayfair.

Over the years, more than 5.3 million people have enjoyed the races on Mission Bay. Bayfair has grown from just a hydroplane race in 1964 to an event that featured international competitors, live music and aerial demonstrations. Bayfair is a nonprofit 501(c)4 event organized and run entirely by volunteers. An eight-member Board of Governors directs and oversees 700 volunteers to stage the three-day festival, which takes places each September. More than 700 RV owners, friends and family get the rare opportunity to stay in Mission Bay Park for the festival weekend.