This weekends 48th running of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup is the exact midway point of the 2013 H1 Unlimited hydroplane season.
The fleet already has raced in Doha, Qatar; Sacramento and Detroit (high river water and rain cancelled the race in Madison, Ind.). Still to come after Tri-Cities: Seattle, Coeur dAlene and San Diego.
But none of the 11 unlimited race teams competing this weekend will see a course this year like the one in the Tri-Cities.
The Tri-Cities is nice, said Jon Zimmerman, who drives the U-9 Fox Plumbing & Heating presents Red Dot. Its a big 21⁄2-mile course with big, sweeping turns.
The Columbia River has been compared to Talladega, Ala., in NASCAR as a super-speedway.
Were set for maximum speed, said Steve David, the driver of the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto and the current leader in the national high points race. The question is of having the right gears.
And getting through that first turn in one piece. Located at the east end of the course, near Lampson Pits, the first turn seems to hold water thats churned up by the other boats going through it.
The Tri-Cities is like any other course, said Jimmy Shane, who won last years Columbia Cup in the U-5 Graham Trucking. You have to get a good flying start. But the biggest thing is getting through that first turn clean.
David said get the nose of the boat through the turn first, then a driver should be OK.
The 59-year-old David said hes trying to come to terms with losing the Gold Cup in Detroit on July 14.
He had the lead in Oberto after the first lap of the five-lap final.
But H1 race officials said he cut off Shane in the U-5 coming out of the turn, and he was penalized a lap. Shanes boat suffered damage when he went through Davids roostertail, and that left the door wide open for Kip Brown in the U-95 Spirit of Qatar to win the Gold Cup.
Race fans were livid with the call against David and Oberto, especially the ones in Madison, Ind., the home port of Oberto boat. For David, he had competed in the Gold Cup for 23 years, never winning it and finishing second a record 12 times.
Ive tried to get past it, said David. I guess the part Im not over is (H1s) failure to admit they made a mistake.
So with four races left, David and Oberto are concentrating their efforts on grabbing another national high points championship. They have been season champions in 2008-10 and 2012.
After three races this season, the lead has changed hands twice, between Shane and David.
Entering this weekend, David and Oberto have 4,715 points. Shane and Graham are next at 4,532, while Zimmerman and Red Dot are third at 3,957.
Our goal is to be top qualifier to gain more points, said David, and pull the 5 in every heat.
Shane says bring it on.
The points race is really tight, said Shane. We were sitting really good in Detroit after Saturday. Then Sunday came. But we were about 950 points behind coming into Tri-Cities last year. Right now were only about 110 points behind.
He likes where hes at right now.
I think I was just beginning to get some confidence in the boat in Tri-Cities last year, Shane said. Here, I always go for the inside lane. Its an advantage if you have the speed. And we do.
But if something goes wrong for either team, Zimmerman will be ready to pounce in the U-9.
Its a big, fast course, easy to drive on, said Zimmerman. But those first two boats have about 6 to 8 mph on us. Were going to have to run as fast as we can and hope to get a break.
Like Shane, Zimmerman feels more confident in his ride.
Ive never gotten a chance to get comfortable in a boat until this one, Zimmerman said. This boat and crew gives me confidence. I have a lot more confidence now than I did last year. Last year we held back a lot on the boat. This year, were racing the boat.
Shane wont be giving up anything to David or Zimmerman or the rest of the field for that matter.
As defending champion, the Graham team gets to set up camp underneath Bernie Littles Oak tree in the east end of Lampson Pits.
Itd be really nice to get under that tree again next year, Shane said.
w Lampson Pits will be full this weekend.
Besides the 11 unlimiteds, eight Grand Prix West boats are expected, as well as eight 1-Liter (Y class) hydroplanes.
There will also be three vintage hydroplanes: the 1962 U-40 Miss Bardahl, the 1957 U-77 Miss Wahoo, and the 1955 U-60 Miss Thriftway.