J. Michael Kelly
J. Michael KellyDriver

J. Michael Kelly has joined the Strong Racing team, paired with his long-time best friend Corey Peabody, who will drive the U-9 in 2021. Kelly is a 12-time H1 Unlimited race winner, and Gold Cup winner. He is known as one of the most consistent starters on the circuit, an advantage for the team. Many have compared his starts to the late-great driver, Bill Muncey.

He has partnered with long-time crew chief, Tom Anderson for each of his twelve career victories.

Kelly scored his first H1 Unlimited hydroplane win at the 2009 inaugural U.I.M. World Championship Oryx Cup in Doha, Qatar. Kelly said his goal this year is winning the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series national championship, something he has never been able to accomplish. His 18-year career makes him the most seasoned driver among active drivers on the circuit.

Kelly’s hydroplane for 2021 is the former Ellstrom U-16/96 hull that was new in 2014 and previously driven by Kip Brown, Jean Theoret and most recently by JW Myers in 2017. The hull was purchased by Darell and Vanessa Strong in the off-season. Paired with the U-9 Jones Racing hull, the Strong Racing team will possess two of the fastest boats and will pose a formidable opponent for the other teams during the 2021 season.

Darrell & Vanessa Strong
Darrell & Vanessa Strong

Courtesy Tri-City Herald:

Just before the new year, Darrell Strong became the first Tri-Citian to own a hydroplane team in perhaps 40 years.

And Monday, his team added another hydroplane to its lineup that had been dry docked for a few years.

Strong Racing announced Monday that it has purchased all of the assets of the Ellstrom/Elam Racing team from owner Erick Ellstrom.

“A good boat was available and the sport needed it back in the water,” Strong told the Herald.

The Ellstrom team — which has won a number of races in the Tri-Cities, as well as the Gold Cup — last raced the boat in the 2017 season.

But it was a rocket from the beginning when it hit the water for the first time in 2014, becoming one of the fastest boats in the H1 Unlimited fleet.

Put that together with the U-9 boat and equipment that Strong previously purchased from Mike and Lori Jones and Strong Racing has a pretty powerful lineup. A few years ago, the equipment from the Jones’ won a national high points championship.

The team is working on sponsorships, but Strong is planning on racing both boats on the entire H1 Unlimited circuit for the 2021 season.

Strong had told the Herald after the U-9 purchase that he’d start with one boat for the 2021 season, and maybe would get a second somewhere down the line.

That plan changed on Monday.

“When I decided to become an owner, I set a goal of creating a benchmark team,” Strong said. “This is one more step realizing that goal, and I’m really pleased with Erick’s enthusiastic support.”

Ellstrom has stepped away from hydroplane racing for the past few years, and instead has concentrated on off-road racing, with his son as one of his team’s drivers.

So the boat equipment has just been sitting in the team’s shop near Seattle.

“When Darrell explained his approach to racing and his plans for this team, it made sense to help him succeed,” Ellstrom said.

This means five team owners now each have two boats in their camps for the upcoming season. Besides Strong, Rob Graham, the City of Madison, Scott and Shannon Raney and Kelly Stocklin each have two boats in their camps.