Hydro week heavy with controversy heading into Columbia Cup

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editorJuly 21, 2013 

It’s boat race week in the Tri-Cities.

With the 48th running of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup set for Friday through Sunday, the Columbia River shoreline will once again be filled with fans enjoying the sun, heat, food, boat racing and airshow.

Ah yes, some things never change. Such as controversy.

As the H1 Unlimited fleet arrives this week, the boats are coming off a controversial finish to the APBA Detroit Gold Cup last week.

Kip Brown, driving the U-95 Spirit of Qatar, won his first Gold Cup by holding off Jon Zimmerman in the U-9 Miss Red Dot.

But Brown was put into that position when H1 officials ruled Steve David in the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto cut off Jimmy Shane in the U-5 Graham Trucking after one lap.

David, who was leading and looking for his first-ever Gold Cup victory in 23 tries, was given a one-lap penalty, while Shane suffered damage to his boat. That knocked out the top two teams in the circuit.

It also lit up the internet, as fans of David and Oberto — so wanting him to get that first Gold Cup — were irate that he was penalized at all. The water line video and stills available made it hard to see whether it was the right call or not.

David himself was pretty upset.

"(The officials) keep continually doing this to us," David told the Madison (Ind.) Courier. "The officials are a joke. They couldn't manage a kindergarten class."

A day later, though, the 59-year-old driver had moved on, asking fans to join him in congratulating Brown on the victory.

So that’s the scenario coming into this week’s race.

Yes. This week’s race. Fans may need a program to keep some of the changes straight from last year’s Columbia Cup.

Here are some of the biggest:

1. Dave Villwock isn’t in a cockpit now. After driving for Erick Ellstrom in the U-1 Spirit of Qatar last season, Villwock — the sport’s all-time winningest driver — has retired.

He struggled in the U-1 the rest of the 2012 season, and in January in Qatar, Villwock ran over some bouys and later did some serious damage to the hull.

Enough so that Ellstrom hasn’t fixed the boat yet, he and Villwock parted ways, and he helped the U-17 team become the new Qatar boat.

As for Villwock, he should be in Lampson Pits this weekend — as a consultant to the U-37 Beacon Plumbing.

2. The new Qatar. As stated above, Nate Brown and his U-17 Miss Red Dot team began this season as the U-95 Spirit of Qatar.

Kip Brown got the Gold Cup victory July 14.

Last year, Uncle Nate had to step in at the Columbia Cup to drive after Kip broke his foot early in the weekend. Obviously, Kip is ready to go.

3. The new U-1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Last season, Villwock and the Qatar wore the U-1 designation as the defending national high points champions.

But David and the Oberto team, who had the U-1 for 2009-11, earned it back for this season.

4.Boat count. Last year, the boat count was 13. As of Friday, it’s at 11 for this year’s race.

Gone is the 88 Degree Men boat, as the Gregory family tried to run the 2012 circuit, but ended its run after the boat got damaged late in the season.

Also missing is the U-18 Bucket List Racing boat. Kelly Stocklin was able to qualify his newer boat — and himself as a driver — at last year’s Columbia Cup.

Also last season, the Leland team brought two boats to the races: the U-99 and U-100. Only the U-100 is scheduled to be here.

But perhaps it was just that: a Bucket List thing.

Someone spotted the boat being up for sale recently on craigslist.

There are also some boats back that weren’t here last year.

Mike Webster’s U-22 Webster Racing boat is back after missing last season after he flipped the boat in Detroit. Webster rebuilt the boat in the offseason.

Also back is the Spirit of Detroit boat (the old U-13), which Jay Leckrone and Greg Hopp have leased from Dave Bartush. They’re calling their team the U-14 Centurion Racing.

Greg and Brian O’Farrell are expecting to bring in the U-21 boat back this week. The O’Farrell’s didn’t race it Detroit nor Sacramento. But they want to get it ready for its homeport of Seattle in a few weeks by racing it here.

5. Driver changes. It wasn’t long after last year’s Columbia Cup that Scott and Shannon Raney, co-owners of the U-11 Peters & May, agreed with co-owner JW Myers to replace Myers as driver with Tom Thompson.

Hopp was replaced late in the 2012 season as the U-100 driver with Ryan Mallow.

Mallow flipped the U-100 in Detroit last week, but the team expects to be ready for the Tri-Cities.

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