KENNEWICK, Wash. — Nine of the fastest race boats in the world will compete on the Columbia River this weekend as the 2023 H1 Unlimited Racing Series continues with the Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities, Wash. The event will feature hydroplanes that careen across the water at speeds approaching 200 mph while throwing a spectacular plume of spray high into the air.
Most of the boats in the field for the Columbia Cup will have a realistic chance of winning the race, say the experts. While both events held so far this summer have been hampered by thunderstorms, delays, and accidents that have caused race stoppages, the events have also featured some of the closest competition the sport has seen in many years.
With the 2023 season at the halfway point, the leader in the national points race is the hydroplane campaigned by the Unlimited Racing Group from Cle Elum, Wash. Driven by Jamie Nilsen of Gig Harbor, Wash., the boat finished in third place at Guntersville, Ala., and second in Madison, Ind., and will race in the Tri-Cities with the name Legend Yacht Transport presented by The Truss Company.
Only one point behind in the national standings is Beacon Electric of the Strong Racing Team of Auburn, Wash., which is driven by J. Michael Kelly of Bonney Lake, Wash. Kelly, who has more career race victories than any other current driver, piloted the boat to a win at the Indiana Governor’s Cup in Madison earlier this month.
Third in the standings is Kelly’s teammate on the Strong Racing Team, Corey Peabody of Covington, Wash. Driving Beacon Plumbing, Peabody won the Southern Cup in Guntersville to start this year’s campaign and in the process drove the boat to one heat victory with an average speed of over 162 mph—the fastest ever recorded in the sport’s history.
Rounding out the top four in the current standings is a boat that made headlines at both events. In Guntersville, Dustin Echols of Monroe, Wash., drove The Bucket List to a qualifying run of over 171 mph, which was the fifth fastest in the history of the sport and the fastest since fuel restrictions were introduced almost 20 years ago. Then in Madison, the boat was severely damaged when it did an end-over-end flip during the final heat. Echols was not seriously injured.
Members of the Bucket List Race Team have worked day and night since getting the boat back to their shop in Snohomish, Wash., and will have the craft ready for the Columbia Cup this weekend. Not only that, the hydroplane will return with a new name. Team owners Sharon and Kelly Stocklin have announced that their boat will be sponsored by Flav-R-Pac Frozen Fruits and Vegetables for the remainder of the season.
The defending national champion Miss HomeStreet is currently in fifth place in the H1 Unlimited national standings. The boat, now driven by rookie Dylan Runne of Rumson, NJ, is campaigned by the Miss Madison Racing Team of Madison, Ind., which has won the national title 11 of the past 14 seasons. Runne won the first heat in his new unlimited-racing career with a victory in Madison that included the fastest heat and lap averages that were performed during the contest.
Runne’s teammate on the Madison team is Andrew Tate of Canton, Mich., the driver of Miss Goodman Real Estate. Currently sixth in the standings, Tate had to miss the event in his team’s hometown because the boat was still being repaired from an accident that occurred during the final heat in Guntersville when the boat flipped upside down and was then struck by the Bucket List with Echols at the wheel. Neither driver was injured in the incident.
Currently seventh in the standings is Griggs presents Miss Ace Hardware, which is owned by Ed Cooper of Evansville, Ind., and driven by Jimmy King of Wales, Mich. The boat is always a fan favorite because it brings back the sound of yesteryear with its turbocharged Allison engine, which was a staple in the sport from the late 1940s until turbine engines started powering the boats about 40 years ago.
Attention this weekend also will be focused on Brent Hall of Seattle, who is attempting to become the first African American boat racer to qualify as a driver in H1 Unlimited competition, the highest level of boat racing in the world. Hall will be in the cockpit of Boitano Homes of the Bucket List Race Team and needs to complete just seven more laps during testing, four of them over 130 mph, in order to become a qualified driver.
Another rookie hoping to qualify as a driver is Bobby King of Port Huron, Mich., who will be driving Graham Trucking in the boat’s first appearance since the 2021 season. King, a veteran of competition in several smaller inboard classes, is a third-generation boat racer and is the son of Jimmy King, the driver of Griggs presents Miss Ace Hardware. If the younger King qualifies and competes in the Columbia Cup, it will be the first time that a father and son have raced in the same event since Jerry and Greg Hopp competed against each other at Seattle in 2001.
The Columbia Cup event will begin with testing runs at 8 a.m. PDT on Friday, July 28. Qualifying attempts are set for that afternoon. The schedule for Saturday includes one set of preliminary heats in the afternoon, and Sunday will include two more sets of preliminary heats and the winner-take-all final heat at 4:30 p.m.
Nothing can beat the thrill of watching the H1 Unlimiteds in person. Tickets to the event are available at waterfollies.com.
For boat racing fans around the world who can’t attend in person, the race also will be streamed live on the H1 Unlimited YouTube Channel. You can find the link at H1Unlimited.com.