Cal Phipps is a late bloomer when compared to the younger drivers he competes against on the H1 Unlimited hydroplane racing circuit. He began racing H1 Unlimited hydros when he was 41 years old. Now 49, Phipps is not your ordinary, everyday run-of-the-mill hydroplane driver.
Phipps didn’t grow up towing a plywood hydroplane with a string attached to the back of his three-speed Schwinn bicycle. He wasn’t dragged to outboard races on weekends as the family raced. As a kid, he didn’t dream of being the next Jim Kropfeld or Chip Hanauer. Phipps was just an ordinary boy growing up in Detroit, always competing against the neighborhood kids in anything they did. Whether it was football or mini-bike racing, Phipps learned at an early age what competition is about –winning was everything.
His H1 Unlimited career began in 2008 as a part-time crewmember for Dave Bartush’s U-13 and driver J. Michael Kelly. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about turbine engines,” he said. He also applied his trade as an auto-body mechanic and ended up replacing the bottom of the boat after it sustained major damage in Evansville that year. As a reward for his hard work, Phipps was allowed a test drive at the Tri-Cities race, and in his first-ever laps in an Unlimited, he turned consistent 155+MPH laps, only 3MPH behind Kelly!
In 2010, Phipps became the team’s rookie driver. Right out of the box at his first race he was fourth fastest in qualifying and later at the American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup he finished his preliminary heats with a second and third place finish.
In 2011, after the U-13 team decided to take a year off, Phipps drove as a substitute driver for the U-17 Miss Red Dot where he finished forth in the APBA. Gold Cup. He drove on and off for several teams until he landed with his current team, Wiggins Racing in 2015.
The team decided not to race last season after taking part in an exhibition in Alabama. Five of his 10 preliminary heat wins have been on board the U-27 Chase Building Group unlimited hydroplane. His best finish came in 2014 when he came in second during the San Diego Bayfair race driving the U-7 Graham Trucking.
Phipps is eager to apply his astute study as a driver and expert boat set-up technician on the U-27 Chase Building Group hydro in 2018 and show the other drivers that wisdom is an important part of racing. The 2018 race season is Phipp’s seventh season in the cockpit of an unlimited hydroplane and his third with Wiggins Racing.
His major goal is to win the APBA. Gold Cup on the Detroit River in front of his nearby hometown Sterling Height friends and family.
Phipps got his start in boat racing late in high school. His neighbor raced remote control hydros and then bought an inboard hydroplane. Phipps, who was always tinkering with cars trying to make them go faster and fixing them up while working in a body shop, decided to help on the boat.
Day and night the two would work on the hydroplane applying the value of perfection he had learned in the auto body shop. After a year of working on the hydroplane, the two took the boat to a race. Up until this time Phipps had never seen a boat race. He said he “was more than ready to see what hydroplane racing was all about.”
At the time, Phipps didn’t have any aspirations of being a hydroplane driver because he says he had too much to learn. But it only took that one race for him to catch “hydro fever.” “I wanted to learn all aspects of a boat before getting in as a driver,” Phipps recalls. He crewed on teams almost every weekend he could from 1988 to 1993. He shadowed drivers like Mark Tate and Frank Richardson. “I would listen to every word they would say, watch what they were doing, and then compare that with what I saw and the notes I took.”
Finally, in 1993, Phipps was asked to drive a 1-litre hydroplane. Already a racer, he obviously fell in love with driving. He ended up buying the boat and won regional and national races along the way. He continued to learn as a driver and eventually moved up to the 6-litre powered hydroplanes, where he went undefeated in 26 straight heats of racing. When he wasn’t driving, he also spent time crewing on other classes of hydroplanes.
He advanced to drive the more powerful Grand Prix hydroplanes, where he learned about power-to-weight ratio as well as skid fin and rudder set-ups. Other owners began to see the value Phipps could bring to their team and would ask him to substitute as their driver. He would drive the boats, give advice, and give the boat back to the regular driver.
Phipps has also applied his knowledge learned in the auto-body shop and today works as a paint color coat technician at PPG Industries and lives with his wife in Avon Lake, Ohio.
2017 GNH National Champion
2017 GNH Eastern Divisional Champion
10 National Championships in 5 different classes
25 National Championships in 6 different classes
13 Eastern Divisional Championships in 5 different classes
3 Western Divisional Championships in 2 different classes
6 World Championships in 2 different Classes
7 World Records in 2 different classes