KENNEWICK -- When it comes to racing unlimited hydroplanes, the Columbia River is known as a superspeedway.
Think Daytona or Talladega in NASCAR racing.
It's a bit of a change after the American Boat Racing Association tour competed in Madison, Ind., and then Detroit earlier this month.
Friday through Sunday, the group races in the Tri-Cities for the 44th Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.
"In qualifying you have these huge turns," said Steve David, who drives the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto and won last year's race here. "You don't have to decelerate that much. Usually the wind is light and the air is good -- but it's hot. You can run the boat more loose in qualifying."
Jeff Bernard, who drives the U-5 Formulaboats.com, feels the Tri-Cities course is a bit easier mentally on the drivers.
"Madison is hit or miss with all of the debris and the rollers," Bernard said. "Detroit is a tough drivers' course."
There is one problem, however, with the Columbia. When five or six boats get on the course at the same time, the first turn -- on the east end of the course in front of Lampson Pits -- becomes a roiling, churning mess that boats have a tough time getting through cleanly.
"That," said David, "is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde part of this course. It gets rough in that first turn. You have to nail it at the start. If you're in Lane 2, and you go in, you can hope to hold off everyone else. But if you're in Lane 1, you've got to hope to get there first and beat everyone out of the turn."
Madison has something similar, in which the water just churns in one spot.
David believes it's the contours of the bottom of the river, and the water just rolls off of it.
"It's amazing," he said.
One other big problem, Bernard said, is with the sun late Sunday afternoon.
"You come to the final heat with the sun going down and you're fighting the glare going up the back side out of the first turn. But I'm excited for some decent water. Tri-Cities is usually good unless the wind comes up in the backstretch."
Regardless of the sun, Sunday's Columbia Cup winner will be the boat that can get through that first turn with the least amount of damage.
-- The ABRA has announced the starting procedures for this race, which will be lanes assigned based on qualifying speeds.
For the first two heats, the fastest qualifiers select their lanes first, and the process is reversed for the second set of heats in which the teams with the fewest points select lanes first.
"I like it, I think it's fair to everyone," said Dave Villwock, the driver of the U-16 Miss Elam Plus who has won the first two races this season. "It eliminates a lot of problems we had last year before the start, and makes it possible for the officials to keep things orderly."
It also might be the best chance for the other teams to beat Villwock, since he is one of the all-time best in fighting for lane position with a clock start.
Bernard, however, doesn't like assigned lanes.
"It makes my job easy. I know what lane I'm in when I'm going out," Bernard said. "But I wouldn't have won the two races I did last year if I was not on the inside (fighting for the lane)."
NOTES: Driver Jean Theoret, who flipped the U-37 in Madison on July 4 and ingested water from the Ohio River, will not drive here but he will in Seattle on July 30-Aug. 1. Team owner Billy Schumacher has asked JW Myers to drive in the Tri-Cities. ... The U-17 has garnered a sponsor for the Columbia Cup. West Pasco Family Dental has bought sponsorship. .... Speaking of the U-17, owner Nate Brown will step into the cockpit to keep his unlimited driver's license current. He'll test, qualify and drive the first heat, but nephew Kip Brown -- the team's No. 1 driver -- will take it from there. ... Ken Muscatel will have his newly renovated U-25 here. But the boat he leased from Fred Leland that was used in Madison and Detroit will also be here just in case. ... Mike Webster, the rookie driver of the U-22 who injured his finger in Detroit when the cockpit canopy closed on it, will be ready to drive here.