Kennewick, Wash. — There were high expectations by H1 Unlimited drivers that someone would set some qualifying speed records at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup on Friday.
But the only thing that turned out high was the water level on the Columbia River, which in turn wreaked havoc on the 13-boat fleet. The high water stems from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releasing a lot of water recently upriver from Priest Rapids Dam.
The rollers from the skid fins normally go to the inside of the course, said U-1 Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock. But the current is so fast its bringing them back out into the turn.
In turn, its beating up the boats and slowing down the speeds, said U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David.
Youre getting large, standing swells from the apex to the exit in turns 1 and 2, said David. You come in real fast, then hit this big stuff and it just bends you out of shape, and it brings speeds down about 6 mph from last year.
Even with a rough course, the usual favorites were at the top of the qualifying ladder. Villwock and Qatar took the 100 points for fastest speed at 159.645 mph, while David and Oberto were second at 158.155.
Scott Liddycoat in the 88 Degree Men were third at 154.342, while Jimmy Shane in the U-5 Graham Trucking was fourth at 153.152.
Both young drivers were surprised at how the river was handling.
Its amazing how that first turn just holds its wakes, said Shane.
Shane was also amazed at how fast his speeds were with the current, and how much slower the boat was going upriver.
So was Liddycoat.
Its like youre hitting bricks going upriver, Liddycoat said.
Keep in mind, were talking about qualifying, with just one boat out on the course.
What happens when there are four boats in a heat race, like today? Or Sundays final, when seven boats should be on the water at the same time?
Ive been told the river is six feet higher than normal, said Erick Ellstrom, crew chief and owner of the Qatar. And the current is two or three times as fast. Just dont be in the back of the field.
Its going to be rough heading into that first turn, said Villwock. Theyre will be a bunch of roostertails for drivers to go through to get to those inside lanes.
Everyone will get their answers today, when the boats will compete in three heat races.
In Heat 1A, set for 2:45 p.m., itll be the Qatar, the 88 Degree Men, the U-99 Leland Unlimited II and driver Ryan Mallow, the U-57 Formulaboats.com/Tire Factory and Mark Evans; and the U-18 Bucket List Racing and driver Kelly Stocklin if Stockling can get the boat running.
In Heat 1B, set for 3:10 p.m., the lineup is Oberto, the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing and driver J.Michael Kelly, the U-11 Miss Peters & May and driver JW Myers, and the U-9 Les Schwab presents Sound Propeller Services and Jon Zimmerman.
In Heat 1C at 3:35 p.m., its the Graham Trucking, the U-17 Miss Red Dot and Nate Brown, the U-21 Miss HAPO and Brian Perkins, and the U-100 Leland Unlimited and Greg Hopp.
Meanwhile, there were other problems on the river.
Villwock found problems with a dog during his first qualifying run.
I saw a Golden Retriever from the infield swimming out, said Villwock, who shut his boat down. He was probably chasing some birds.
David wasnt buying it, and he thought Villwock was trying to get another free shot at qualifying.
Did anybody actually see it? he asked. We could have gone quicker, but there was a Sasquatch in the middle of the course, so we slowed down. And we support eastern Washington Sasquatches.
Then he turned serious.
No, Dave got us, said David. Were still a little short of them. All season its been about 1 mph. It used to be 3 mph, so were getting better.
One driver fell victim to injury, but the river really had nothing to do with it.
Kip Brown, driver of the U-17 Miss Red Dot, broke the bottom of his left tibia, when the steering failed and he hooked the boat on a test run.
The wing pedal kicked back at me, Brown said. Frankly I was just lucky and Im happy I didnt roll the boat.
But the boat was injured and Nate Brown and his team spent the rest of the day fixing it. The boat wasnt able to qualify, but Nate Brown expects to drive today in the teams first heat.
Kip Brown is out at least 4 to 6 weeks, so hell miss this weekends race and Seafair next weekend.