The race for the H1 Unlimited National Championship gets underway this weekend when the fastest boats in the world compete on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities, Washington. The giant hydroplanes, about 30 feet long and capable of speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, will have qualifying runs on Friday with racing action on Saturday and Sunday that is sure to confirm their status as the most spectacular sport on water, and the heat format insures this race will include the most on-water action of any event this season.
At stake will be the HAPO Columbia Cup, and leading the list of contenders will be the winner of last year’s race in the Tri-Cities and the reigning three-time national champion, the U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank driven by Jimmy Shane, one of only two drivers in the history of the sport to win four national titles in a row. The boat is owned by the citizens of Madison, Indiana, while Shane, from Renton, Washington, will be looking for his 15th career race victory.
A feature of unlimited hydroplane racing the past several years has been close competition between the boats. That will certainly be the case again in the Tri-Cities because several entries expect to be right in the thick of it with Shane and the Miss HomeStreet Bank.
The U-9 Les Schwab from Seattle is a definite threat to win the HAPO Columbia Cup. Driven by Michigan resident Andrew Tate, last year’s Rookie of the Year, the team was the winner of the Indiana Governor’s Cup earlier in July, an exhibition event that featured four of the hydroplanes, including the Miss HomeStreet Bank. A veteran competitor in the smaller limited-class hydroplanes, Tate earned his first career victory in an unlimited last year in Seattle.
Another top contender will be the U-12 Graham Trucking, which was purchased during the off-season by long-time boat sponsor Rob Graham. In a career that started in 2000 as the Miss Budweiser, the boat, which is now based out of Milton, Washington, has collected three national championships and 23 race victories, including last year’s Gold Cup. It was extensively rebuilt over the winter and will be driven by J. Michael Kelly of Bonney Lake, Washington.
Other unlimited hydroplanes sure to add to the excitement will include the U-11 Miss J&D’s with Tom Thompson of Cambridge, Maryland, at the controls; the U-21 Payne West Insurance with Brian Perkins of North Bend, Washington, driving; the U-3 Grigg’s Ace Hardware with Jimmy King of Wales, Michigan, in the cockpit; the U-99.9 Miss Rock with Greg Hopp of Lake Stevens, Washington, driving; and the Bucket List Racing entry, which will be driven by Dustin Echols of Sultan, Washington.
The unlimited hydroplanes have been racing on the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities since 1966 and during that time the event has proven itself to feature among the fastest and most competitive racing during the season. For an updated schedule and ticket information, go to the Tri-Cities Water Follies website at www.waterfollies.com.