Hydroplane boat racing returns to the lake after 49-year absence
GUNTERSVILLE, Alabama (June 19, 2018)- Eight H1 Unlimited hydroplane race boats are expected to compete June 22-24 on the fastest race water in the South. The weekend of racing marks the return of the world’s fastest race boats on Guntersville Lake who have not competed on the lake since 1969. Teams qualify on the 2-1/2 mile Southern Cup race course on Friday, and race on Saturday and Sunday.
In the 1960s the boats were known to post world record speeds on Guntersville Lake. Those records have fallen, but with advanced racing technologies and the return to the lake, today’s drivers are looking forward to possibilities of setting new world records in Alabama.
Last year during an exhibition run on Guntersville Lake, Jimmy Shane (Maple Valley, Wash.) driving the U-1 Miss HomeStreet looked at his speedometer and raised his eyebrows. When he got back to the pits, he just grinned. “I can tell you,” said Shane, “just from the area that we tested, were running fast, like 196 mph on the lake.” Then he chuckled and said, “It was fast!”
The world record for the fastest qualifying lap on a 2-1/2 mile course is 164.759 mph held by Dave Villwock on San Diego’s Mission Bay in 2011.
“We are excited,” said Shane. “Last year I was fortunate to test here and there must’ve been 5,000 people just for the exhibition. I can’t wait for our fans in the Southern region of the country to see Miss HomeStreet and numerous other H1 Unlimited hydroplanes all racing together, deck-to-deck.
Although it will be the season opener, it also becomes the sixth event added to the H1 Unlimited hydroplane season. And, there is plenty of optimism to go around about it.
Drivers such as Andrew Tate (Walled Lake, Mich.), who finished second in the national high points race with the U-9 Delta/Realtrac, warm to the idea of a brand new course that none of the current drivers have competed on.
“I’m really excited. This is my third year driving an H1 Unlimited hydroplane,” said Tate. “A new course makes for an even playing field. The other drivers don’t have notes on the course either.”
Local team owner Charley Wiggins (Birmingham, Ala.), owner of the U-27 Greater Gadsden presents Chase Building Group hydroplane knows the water perhaps better than anyone on the H1 Unlimited hydroplane circuit. Guntersville Lake could be a double-edged sword.
“The Guntersville course, being on a much wider body of water than the Tri-City (Wash.) and San Diego 2-1/2 mile courses should provide either a smoother course or it could produce a much rougher course if the winds come from the west-southwest directions,” Wiggins said.
“Having duck hunted on various parts of Guntersville Lake for many years, wind direction can take a smooth mill pond lake and create treacherous white caps for a 16-foot flat bottom boat, which unlimited hydroplane drivers don’t like either. So if the winds are down, it will be smooth like San Diego.”
In other words, teams better be prepared for anything on a course they don’t know much about, Wiggins warned.
The U-27 Greater Gadsden presents Chase Building Group is considered the hometown race boat, based in nearby Rainbow City, Ala. Their driver Cal Phipps (Avon Lake, Ohio) said they cannot wait to get back to racing. “When we take the checkered flag on Sunday fans are going to hear one of the best renditions of the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ they have ever heard,” a confident Phipps said.
In addition to Phipps, expect a battle to be waged by top contenders Shane in the U-1 Miss HomeStreet and Tate in the U-9 Delta/Realtrac.
Tate, with Jeff and Mike Campbell leading his crew, is especially excited for the new season. “At Jones Racing, with the wisdom of the Campbell brothers and the boat setup, we have it down pretty well,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with the boat,” Tate said.
Shane expects more teams to be in the title hunt. “There are as many as five boats that could win the national championship,” he said. “The U-11 (Reliable Diamond Tool presents J&D’s) is going to be faster this year, and (U-7 Spirit of Detroit driver) Bert Henderson is going to be a player this year.”
The other boats expected to fill the field include, U-21 Darrell Strong presents Payne West Insurance, driven by Brian Perkins (North Bend, Wash.), U-99.9 CARSTAR powers Miss Rock driven by rookie driver Aaron Salmon (Bonnie Lake, Wash.), and U-440 Bucket List Racing, driven by 2017 rookie-of-the-year, Dustin Echols (Sultan, Wash.).
In Guntersville, everything old is new again.
Guntersville is actually an old unlimited hydroplane race site. The Dixie Cup was run on the lake back in the 1960s, with the last official race held there in 1969. Altogether, there were five unlimited races held on Guntersville Lake:
- Ron Musson drove the Miss Bardahl to victory in the 1963 Alabama Governor’s Cup.
- In 1964, Bill Muncey drove the Notre Dame to the win in the Dixie Cup final.
- In the 1965 Dixie Cup, the only time the course was a three-mile circuit rather than the usual 2 1/2-mile setup, Buddy Byers won the race in the Miss Madison. That is the same team that operates the U-1 Miss HomeStreet team in 2018.
- After a two-year layoff in which the race wasn’t held, Col. Warner Gardner drove the Miss Eagle Electric to the 1968 Dixie Cup title.
- And, in the 1969 Dixie Cup, Bill Sterett Sr., piloted the Miss Budweiser to victory.
After that, unlimited hydroplane racing went away from Guntersville Lake. It was Wiggins, the owner of the U-27 H1 Unlimited hydroplane who broached the idea of bringing a boat race back to his home state of Alabama. It was two years ago when Wiggins talked to Katy Norton at the Marshall County Visitors and Convention Bureau about possibly getting the big boats back. Norton agreed it was worth a try. “Boat racing was really popular here,” said Norton. “I’ve been in this position since 2013, and I’ve had a number of people tell me ‘You need to bring the boats back.’”
She said, “We have three hotel properties that are sold out and many others close to being full for the race weekend,” added Nolan. “Excitement in town and around the North Alabama region is high. It is a historical event, held for decades on our waterway, and everyone is supporting the return of the boat races.”
Guntersville has a long history of boat racing and there are many people still living in Guntersville who remember when the unlimited hydroplanes ran in the 1960s and when Roy Duby set the one-mile world straight away speed record of 200.419 mph in 1962 driving the Miss US 1. So there is a lot of anticipation and excitement amongst the community for the return of the unlimited hydroplanes,” Norton said.
Expected HydroFest Southern Cup line-up
1) U-1 Miss HomeStreet driven by driver Jimmy Shane (Maple Valley, Wash.).
2) U-7 Spirit of Detroit rookie driver Bert Henderson (Brockville, Ontario).
3) U-9 Delta/Realtrac driven by Andrew Tate (Walled Lake, Mich.).
4) U-11 Reliable Diamond Tool presents J&D’s driven by Tom Thompson (Cambridge, Md.).
5) U-21 Darrell Strong presents Payne West Insurance, driven by Brian Perkins (North Bend, Wash.).
6) U-27 Greater Gadsden presents Chase Building Group driven by Cal Phipps (Avon Lake, Ohio).
7) U-99.9 CARSTAR powers Miss Rock driven by rookie driver Aaron Salmon (Bonnie Lake, Wash.).
8) U-440 Bucket List Racing, driven by Dustin Echols (Sultan, Wash.).
2018 H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series schedule
June 1: Preseason Testing • Kennewick, Wash. • Columbia River
June 22-24: Southern Cup • Guntersville, Ala. • Guntersville Lake
July 6-8: Midwest Tube Mills Indiana Governors Cup • Madison, Ind. • Ohio River
July 27-29: HAPO Columbia Cup • Kennewick, Wash. • Columbia River
August 3-5: Albert Lee Appliance Cup • Seattle • Lake Washington
August 24-26: Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Gold Cup • Detroit • Detroit River
September 14-16: HomeStreet Bank Bill Muncey Cup • San Diego • Mission Bay
H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series
H1 Unlimited hydroplanes are the fastest racing boats in the world and their races are sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association, doing business as H1 Unlimited. With deep history, the 115 year-old sport‘s majority of hydroplanes are powered by turbine engines that produce 3,000 horsepower, allowing the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes to reach speeds of nearly 200 mph, producing a massive 60-foot tall, 300-foot long wall of water called a roostertail behind them. With very few restrictions, these majestic hydroplanes race in front of shorelines packed with fans on bodies of water throughout the United States. For additional information on the 2018 H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series, visit the series website at H1Unlimited.com or visit on social media on Facebook’s ‘H1Unlimited and Twitter ‘H1Unlimiteds.’