Taking a page out of auto racing, Terry Troxell and Greg Hopp introduced unlimited hydroplane fans to the concept of team racing Sunday.
Troxell raced to victory in the Budweiser Columbia Cup final, while Hopp kept rival Miss Bud driver Dave Villwock at bay long enough to guarantee his teammate's victory on the Columbia River.
No one would admit to Hopp's blocking - including Villwock - but numerous references were made about it in the Znetix pits.
"I never played football, but I probably would have been a center," Hopp said.
Troxell and Hopp, in lanes 3 and 4 respectively, had great starts. That enabled Troxell to get to the first turn ahead of everyone.
"We were dead on with the start," Troxell said.
By the second lap, Hopp had overtaken Mark Weber in the U-10 Diamond Lil's and was in second.
Meanwhile, Villwock, who was made by officials to start on the outside in Lane 6, had worked his way up to third.
It took Villwock two laps, though, to get around Hopp. By then, there wasn't enough time to catch Troxell, and the second-year driver who began his unlimited career at last year's Columbia Cup had his first victory.
"I kept looking around for the red or orange (U-16 Miss E-Lam) boat," Troxell said. "By the last corner I started to realize I could win this. I just wanted to go into that corner good and come out nice and clean."
Hopp joined Troxell atop the U-99 in the pits and they both raised their arms triumphantly.
Then Hopp sent Troxell into the river with a tackle during their celebration.
"We had a game plan," Troxell said. "(Owner) Fred (Leland) is a smart man and he figured out how to get us up there for a win."
The win was a birthday present of sorts to Leland, who celebrated his "39th" birthday again Sunday.
"We did everything right," Leland said. "Troxell is a good driver, and our whole team works good together."
Hopp, who finished third, was so excited fans might have thought he had won.
"I didn't get the victory, but my teammate did, and that's all that counts," he said. "I tried to catch Terry, but when I couldn't, I looked in my mirror and I saw the red boat coming."
Villwock wouldn't say Hopp was blocking him.
"It looked like Greg was racing hard to stay ahead of me," Villwock said. "One thing that's nice about a five-lap final is you look for some places where a guy doesn't do well. When the opportunity presents itself, you make your move. I was pretty patient back there. I had to play catch-up with Terry. It was a long ways where I came from."
Villwock, in fact, had the day's best performance.
Racing with just 3.85 gallons of fuel per minute - compared to the 4.3 most of the rest of the field had - Villwock still won three heat races. But when the final heat lineup was announced, Hydro-Prop inverted the field and set Bud up on the outside.
"Nothing surprises me anymore," Villwock said. "Before the third heat they asked me first what lane choice I wanted. I figured then they were going to invert for the final.
"People look at our horsepower," he added, "but what got us into position was all those guys working on this boat. I got a boat that was perfect. But we got three wins today and that helps in the national points race. That was our big win today."
The other favorite in the final, the U-16 E-Lam, never recovered after driver Nate Brown hit the starting line way too late.
"I messed up," Brown said. "I got there too early. It was the worst start of my life. Yeah, we made the final in our first start in this boat. But when you mess up like that it's hard to see the positives."
Driver Mike Hanson, who raced to the Gold Cup victory in Detroit on July 15 and was the top qualifier for the Tri-City race, also had a rough day.
A first-heat victory for his U-9 Fiesta Bowl & Casino was negated when race officials found a flagrant fuel violation. Hanson failed to complete his second race when the fuel control shut down.
"This is not our weekend," U-9 owner Lori Jones said.
Hanson missed the third race but bounced back to win the provisional race and qualify for the final as the trail boat. He worked his way up to fourth.