J. Michael Kelly, driver of the U-12 Graham Trucking, started outside of most of the other competitors on the Columbia River today, beat them to the first turn, and ran away to victory in the winner-take-all final heat of the 2017 HAPO Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities, Washington. The U-3 Grigg’s Ace Hardware finished second, the defending champion U-1 Miss HomeStreet was third, and the U-9 Les Schwab Tires was fourth.
As the boats prepared for the start of the final heat, Jimmy King in the Grigg’s Ace Hardware managed to grab the inside lane from the others, typically the most advantageous place to be at the start of a hydroplane race. However, Kelly had other ideas.
Before the race, he and his crew chief developed a plan not to contest for the inside lane. “We decided we weren’t going to play the game of getting up there early with these guys,” Kelly explained. “We hung back. You never know what’s going to happen. I started from the outside, led them going into the first turn, and never looked back.”
Behind him, King and Jimmy Shane in the Miss HomeStreet battled for second place throughout the heat, but King got to the finish line first driving a boat that is powered by a World War II fighter plane engine, as opposed to the turbines used by all the other teams. Andrew Tate in the Les Schwab was caught behind and was not able to catch up.
Finishing in fifth was the U-99.9 CARSTAR powered Miss Rock, with Greg Hopp driving and the U-11 Miss DiJulio presents J&D’s was not able to finish the final heat. Tom Thompson was the pilot of that boat.
The Graham Trucking boat was completely rebuilt during the off-season and hadn’t had a chance to make test runs until it appeared in the Tri-Cites this week. The team had spent much of the weekend sorting out various issues and going back and forth with engines. “It’s pretty cool to win from the outside, especially when we’ve been trying to find speed all week long,” Kelly said. “It’s amazing. I’m so grateful. I’m a lucky guy who gets to go 200 miles per hour on the water.”
The day got underway with a great heat of racing between Tate in the Les Schwab and Thompson in Miss J&D’s. Thompson grabbed the inside lane at the start, with Tate beside him and King in the Grigg’s Ace Hardware on the outside. Thompson led going into the first turn, but Tate pulled slightly ahead down the backstretch. Though Thompson held the inside lane throughout, Tate remained immediately to his outside and managed the boat speed necessary to maintain a narrow lead to the finish line. King finished third and Hopp in the Miss Rock was fourth.
The winner of the day’s second preliminary heat was essentially settled before the boats even started. In preparing for the start, Kelly cut across the bow of the HomeStreet, thus earning a one-minute penalty for encroachment. As for the race itself, Shane took the inside lane at the start, pulled ahead of Kelly, and went on to an easy victory. A third boat in the heat, the 440 Bucket List Racing with Dustin Echols in the cockpit, was far behind the other two and spun out in a turn before it could finish.
In the second round of preliminaries, King took the inside lane at the start of Heat 4A in his Grigg’s Ace Hardware, but Kelly soon passed him in the Graham Trucking and went into the lead with Shane following behind in the Miss HomeStreet. That’s when it was announced that Kelly had jumped gun, forcing him to run an extra lap. As a result, King won the heat while Shane took second and Kelly finished third.
Heat 4B was a repeat of 3A, with Thompson in Miss J&D’s and Tate in Les Schwab again battling it out side by side through the entire run. This time, however, it was Tate holding the inside lane. The two were never more than a boat length apart and it was Tate who got across the finish line first. Hopp in the Miss Rock finished third.
In other news from the Tri-Cities race, the U-21 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance was trailered back to its shop in Maple Valley, Washington, so the team could repair the damage the boat suffered when it spun out during yesterday’s first preliminaries. Also, race officials lifted a disqualification that had been assessed against Thompson in Heat 1B yesterday. The result gave him a second-place finish and the accompanying points.
As the world’s fastest boats now head to Seattle for their next stop on the 2017 campaign, the standings have Miss HomeStreet leading with 1,805 points, the Les Schwab is second with 1,769 points, Graham Trucking is third with 1,695 points, Grigg’s Ace Hardware is fourth with 1,435 points, DiJulio presents J&D’s is fifth with 1,250 points, Miss Rock is sixth with 915 points, and PayneWest Insurance has 40 points.
Racing for Seattle’s Albert Lee Appliance Cup will begin with testing and qualifying runs on Lake Washington this coming Friday, with racing action on both Saturday and Sunday.