U-7New drivers test the waters
By Owen Blauman

KENNEWICK,WASH-May 29, 2015—Three H1 Unlimited teams and a radical looking Grand Prix boat arrived on the shores of the Columbia River on Friday for what Tri-Cities Water Follies promoted as a “spring test” for racers prior to the start of the season in Madison, Ind. Fourth of July weekend.

When the roostertails settled, the three unlimited teams had completed at total of 35 laps on a one-mile plus abbreviated racecourse. U-7 “Graham Trucking”, U-9 “Red Dot/Les Schwab” and U-96 “Spirit of Qatar” made great progress in readying themselves for the season opener. The GP 74 “Premonition” was damaged when it was being lifted from its trailer.

In addition, U-7 “Graham Trucking” (black boat) had two drivers log seat time. Jesse Robertson, the new team driver of the U-7 got familiar with his new team and boat while sharing the boat with J. Michael Kelly who logged seven laps before the shaft log broke, side-lining the boat at the end of the day.

Scott Liddycoat

Scott Liddycoat

U-9 “Red Dot/Les Schwab Tires” introduced new team driver Scott Liddycoat to the boat. Liddycoat, who in the offseason drives a Monster Truck adapted well to his new team. Not only did the U-9 log the most laps but they also had the most drivers in the boat. Lori and Mike Jones allowed long-time crew members Mike and Jeff Campbell drive the boat for several laps.

Andrew Tate

Andrew Tate

The highlight of their session came towards the end of the day when former Smokin’ Joe’s driver Mark Tate’s son Andrew Tate (25) climbed into the U-9 for a few laps.

Owner Lori Jones said, “we’ve got to get new blood in the sport.” The Jones family has allowed many up-and-coming drivers test their boat over the years. When asked how many Lori Jones said “almost two handfuls.”

Tate, who has driven Grand Prix hydros and 2.5 liters was thrilled to get a chance to be the third generation Tate to run a H1 Unlimited hydroplane on the Columbia River. His Grandfather Joe and his father Mark also ran unlimited hydros down the Columbia River.

Mike (l) & Jeff Campbell

Mike (l) & Jeff Campbell

The comments in the temporary pits ran rampant when the two brothers ran. Lori Jones was overhead saying, “we got him out there now we can’t get him in,” when Jeff Campbell had the boat out. “Somebody shoot a red flare!”

When Mike Campbell brought the boat back to the pits many on the other teams were critiquing who brought the boat back closer to the dock. Dixon Smith who has taken both brothers out in his vintage Miss Bardahl said he hoped both crew members learned from their experience driving but felt Mike Campbell parked the boat better. Jeff Campbell said, “this is proof if I can do it anybody can do it.”, to which J. Michael Kelly quickly added, “even a monkey.”

Newcomer to Team Porter’s U-7, Jesse Robertson said his ride handled “like a dream. This is the best handling boat I have driven so far.” Jesse said Friday’s event “really builds excitement leading into the season.”

Jesse Robertson (l) & JMK

Jesse Robertson (l) & JMK

Robertson and Kelly seemed to get along and even poked fun at each other. Robertson said his teammate J. Michael Kelly’s “biggest problem this season will be beating me,” he joked. Kelly quickly responded by saying, “I like my boat because its my boat, so Jesse is pretty much going to have to like his.”

Both drivers agreed that the Tri-Cities Water Follies event was a success because it allowed the estimated 1,000 fans a chance to see the race boats and crews up close and personal and “allowed our new crew members and existing crew members with new roles a chance to jell as a team,” J. Michael said.

Still disappointed from his second place finish in the 2014 National High Points standings, Kelly said, “our biggest goal this season will be to make every preliminary heat and final and don’t get any boat damage because its such a short season.”

J. Michael Kelly is also excited that the American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup will be held in the Tri-Cities, Washington area. “It’s a different feeling not having the Gold Cup in Detroit this year, pretty much all my life its been in Detroit. But the cool thing is many family and friends that haven’t been able to attend the Gold Cup in Detroit now have a chance to see me challenge for the Gold Cup here on the Columbia River.”

One surprise to many on the riverbanks was the fact that all three team’s elected to run a less than a mile course instead of preparing for the HAPO’s Gold Cup 2-1/2 mile course.

Jean Theoret

Jean Theoret

The U-96 “Spirit of Qatar” finished running around 2:30 pm and said they “just ran what Water Follies laid out for them.” The “Spirit of Qatar” team just wanted to test their offseason modifications. “We tried two different skid fins, a new ‘pit man’ on the rudder and some smaller changes,” driver Jean Theoret said.

Noticeably absent from testing was “Spirit of Qatar” owner Erick Ellstrom whose father Sven Ellstrom took ill and remained in Seattle.

U-96 Crew

U-96 Crew

“Jean Theoret did a wonderful job driving today, he never comes off the throttle. I guess we don’t need to put a gauge on that anymore,” crew chief Mike Hanson said.

He continued, “we got everything accomplished we wanted to today and now its time to go race.”

Images courtesy Owen Blauman, Bill Osborne & Chris Denslow