Hydro season set to start

May 30, 2013 

The 2013 H1 Unlimited hydroplane season is one race old.

Yes, that race in February in Doha, Qatar, in which Jimmy Shane won the final in the 5 Graham Trucking, counts for the 2013 standings.

And now it’s time for the seven-race swing through North America to begin with the Big Wake Weekend in Folsom Lake near Sacramento.

For the first time in 45 years, unlimiteds will race in the Northern California location.

The last race run there, in 1968, was won by Billy Schumacher, now the owner of the 37 Beacon Plumbing.

Qualifying at Folsom Lake begins at 2:30 p.m. today. There will be two heat races on Saturday, then four more on Sunday before the final is run at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

The North America swing basically starts one month earlier than normal.

Now Madison, usually the kickoff point, is the second race and will be held July 5-7. Then it’s the APBA Gold Cup in Detroit on July 12-14.

From there, the boats move to the Tri-Cities for the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup on July 26-28.

On Aug. 2-4, the boats race at Seafair on Lake Washington, then head over to Lake Coeur d’Alene as the Diamond Cup returns after a lengthy absence on Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Finally, the season ends Sept. 13-15 at the San Diego Bayfair.

There have been numerous changes since that February race in Doha.

Here are some of the most notable:

1. Where’s Dave? All-time wins leader Dave Villwock looks as if he’s stepping away from the cockpit and retiring.

He and the Ellstrom team agreed to part ways after the January race in Doha that ended the 2012 season, a race in which he bounced the U-96 boat and ran over a few bouys.

That boat, the winningest hull in hydroplane history, is too banged up to run right now. Which means ...

2. Kip Brown and the U-17 Miss Red Dot is now part of the U-95 Spirit of Qatar team.

The Ellstrom family and the Browns — Kip and uncle Nate — are now teammates.

3. The 11 Peters & May team will be running the old Miss Budweiser T-4 boat this season.

The trio of team owners — Scott and Shannon Raney and J.W. Myers — just didn’t have enough time to get their boat ready after it was damaged in the February Doha race.

4. Greg Hopp is back.

So is crew chief Jay Leckrone. Hopp lost his ride with the 100 Leland Unlimited in the offseason.

So he and Leckrone decided to lease Dave Bartush’s 13 Spirit of Detroit for this season. They’ll be known as the 14 Centurion Racing.

5. Mike Webster is also back.

We last saw Webster standing on the docks in Lampson Pits last July, working as a drivers’ representative. That’s because he flipped and destroyed his 22 Webster Racing boat at last year’s Gold Cup.

The boat’s been fixed, and Webster will be racing in Sacramento.

6. The Oberto team is loaded.

With Villwock gone, Oberto’s Steve David is the lone senior citizen driver on the H1 circuit, just turning 59 in January.

But he drove the boat to the national high points championship last season, again. It was Oberto’s fourth title in five years — all of them with David as the driver.

Not only that, the team still has one of the best crew chiefs around in Mike Hanson. For good measure, Oberto signed Scott Liddycoat to work on its crew.

The circuit’s rookie of the year driver two seasons ago, Liddycoat drove last season for the 88 Degree Men team.

It’s not a great leap to think that when David decides to hang it up, Liddycoat could be the heir apparent.

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