We have reached the halfway point of the season. What drivers have demonstrated that they’re contenders for the National Championship? Who was your biggest surprise in Guntersville and Madison? Which heat has been your favorite so far this season?
Craig Fjarlie (Unlimited News Journal Writer & H1 Unlimited Volunteer)
The driver who has surprised me the most is Jamie Nilsen, driver of Legend Yacht Transport. The boat he is driving this year is obviously better than the one the team fielded in 2022, and Nilsen was able to claim a heat win in Madison. However, the driver who is most likely to take the 2023 National Championship is J. Michael Kelly. His boat, Beacon Electric, is faster than Nilsen’s, and I expect Kelly will win the point title. My favorite heat this year was 2B in Guntersville. I still have a fondness for piston engines, and it was fun to watch Jimmy King chase down the field and take the checkered flag in Miss Ace Hardware. It was too bad the win was subsequently thrown out because he had dropped below 80 mph for more than five seconds before the start.
Brad Luce (H1 Unlimited Public Address Announcer)
Great questions. And tough ones for sure! What drivers demonstrated they are contenders for the National Championship? I think they all did! Look no further than the current standings. For me, the thing about Guntersville and Madison this year is that we, unfortunately, left both races with unfinished business. We never got to see the boats run head-to-head, for five full laps, with their best set ups, in a winner take all final. It was no one’s fault. Mother Nature just had the final say. But as disappointing as that may have been for all of us as fans, it sets up an unbelievable scenario for Tri-Cities and Seattle. And not only for the coveted National High Points Championship, but also the APBA Gold Cup. Fans, do not miss these races.
As for my favorite heat of the season so far, that is really tough as well. There was terrific side by side racing at both venues. But if I must pick a favorite, perhaps it was Jamie Nilsen’s victory in Legend Yacht Transport in Heat 1 at the Madison Regatta. While great to see the hard-working U-11 team get some much-deserved success, it is my favorite because that single heat, for me, more than any other, validated what we have been saying since the Tri-Cities test session. That being there is just so much parity in H1 Unlimited racing this year. If any boat can get the jump on the field at the start, as Jamie did in Heat 1, in clean water on an inside lane, the balance of the field is going to be hard pressed to run them down. Especially in a 3-lap preliminary heat. The boats are that close.
Jeff Morrow (Former Sports Editor of the Tri-City Herald)
I know I’m supposed to be objective, but I can’t tell you how tickled I am to see Jamie Nilsen and the Raney’s — Scott and Shannon — at the top of the H1 Unlimited national high point standings at the halfway point.
So, Nilsen in my book, is a contender as well as a surprise so far.
This team shows up for every race and goes about its business.
When the media and fans talk about which team is favored to win a race, the U-11 team is an afterthought.
But when it comes to a season championship, it’s about consistency, and that’s what Nilsen and the U-11 is doing through the first two races. They haven’t won either at Guntersville or Madison.
But they finish their races. And that’s been the key. They did that all last season too.
They’ll get a push from J. Michael Kelly and the U-8 — the U-11 team has 2,315 points; the U-8 has 2,314 — and don’t count Corey Peabody and the U-9, or Dustin Echols and the U-40 (if the boat can be prepared in time for Tri-Cities).
As far as favorite heat so far, usually it would be a final. But we haven’t had one yet.
So, I’ll go with Heat 2 at Madison, in which the four boats involved — the U-9, U-8, U-1 and U-40 — finished in that order. The average speed for all four boats was no more than 4 mph separated between first and fourth.
Andy Muntz (Unlimited News Journal Editor & H1 Unlimited Board Member)
I think Corey Peabody showed during the first half of the season that he has a formidable boat. He seemed always to be at or near the lead in every heat he raced. But, with a short season, missing those two heats in Madison could prove to be costly for his efforts to win the national title. Same can be said for Dylan Runne and Dustin Echols, who likely had the fastest boats in the field, but both had less-than-ideal finishes in a couple of heats that could also take them out of the running.
That leaves J. Michael Kelly as the favorite so far. But, just as any miscue during the first two races had a big impact, the same is true for the final two races. As for the surprise, that has to be Jamie Nilsen. His starts have been excellent and his performance steady every time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that pattern continue in the Tri-Cities and Seattle, which means the championship could come down to the final heat of the season.
David Newton (Publisher of Roostertail Talk Podcast)
After the first 2 races, fans have been treated to many close battles on the water. Each driver has shown their talents on the water. Lap speeds are up, there have been many deck-to-deck battles and five of the seven boats have heat victories.
The biggest surprise for me has been the consistency and improvements that the U-11 Legend Yacht Transport team has shown. They have shown increased speeds from last year with their newly refurbished hull. While other teams are breaking parts, the U-11 has finished all of their heats. My favorite heat this year was Heat 1 of the Madison Regatta where the U-11 wired the start to upset the field with a heat victory. It was great to see Jamie stretch out the boat and get a victory for a team that hasn’t had the most success in the past. The team is reminiscent of the 1985 Executone team, where an underdog is going to the west coast on top of the points race while other teams are struggling. They are currently on top of the points standings by a narrow point over the U-8 Beacon Electric.
Needless to say, I am excited to see the West Coast races. There is just enough time for the teams to make their needed repairs as well as have an addition or two to the fleet. Will other teams be able to step up and not break down or will U-11 continue to with their consistency to stay on top for the National Points race?