Hydros: Unlimited driver gets preview of Columbia

May 31, 2014 

Professional sports teams usually get at least a month to work out the kinks and clear out the cobwebs before their season starts.

But in unlimited hydroplane racing, that’s not true.

Almost every race team will show up in Madison, Ind., at the season opener on the Fourth of July and put their boat in the water — the Ohio River in this instance — for the first time this season.

All except one.

On Saturday, the U-9 Jones Racing team got a chance to run on the Columbia River, and driver Jon Zimmerman took the completely white boat out on the river a few times.

U-9 crew chief Jeff Campbell said the day was productive.

“This is spring training for us. We learned lots of things,” said Campbell. “We made a lot of changes over the winter. We took some weight out of it, did some other things. We have some new crew guys, so we wanted them to see how things were done so when we go to Madison we’re ready.”

And with a smoother ride.

“You’re always looking for speed,” said Campbell, who worked for the Miss Budweiser teams for 12 years. “And you look for stability when the water gets rough. You want to get out of the corner faster.”

The team has improved its qualifying speeds the past few years — getting up to 155 mph in qualifying a few times last season.

But after a team reaches a certain speed, it begins to cost more and more money for each extra mile per hour at a point.

“We’ve gained a lot of speed over the last few years,” said Campbell. “But those were the easy ones. Now they get tougher.”

So little changes here and there in the boat can help boost speed.

And Zimmerman already likes the feel of this new and improved boat.

“The boat is better this year,” he said. “It doesn’t want to fight as much. We tried to lose some weight on it. Just change the dynamics of the boat. Today was just fun.”

The U-9 team has finished fourth in the national high points standings each of the last two seasons. Last year’s finish was more impressive, considering the team missed the last two races when the boat broke in Coeur d’Alene.

So when the Tri-City Water Follies announced a few months ago that it had blocked out Saturday for any unlimiteds to practice, Campbell jumped in.

“When they first announced that they were doing this, our guys looked at the boat in the shop and said no,” said Campbell. “I said yes. We were ready to go last Monday.”

It allowed the team to get a jump start on the season and be ready for Madison, “instead of just thrashing things together when we get there,” said Campbell.

So what’s it gong to take to make this team happy this year?

“We’re always happy,” said Campbell, whose brother Mike — also a Budweiser veteran — works on the team, too. “Mike and I, between us we’ve had well over 100 race wins and six or seven Gold Cups. This is fun for us. We used to have ideas when we were with the Bud team, but we couldn’t make those changes. Now if we have an idea, we can make the changes.”

Zimmerman is a little more detailed in his happiness.

“Go out and win a race,” he said.

The U-9 is getting closer.

Notes: Zimmerman said the circuit favorites have to be the U-1 Graham Trucking and the U-6 Oberto. Both boats will have new drivers. The U-1 will have J.Michael Kelly (who drove the 37 Beacon Plumbing last season), while the U-6 has Jimmy Shane in the cockpit. Shane drove the Graham Trucking to the national title last season. ... The U-11, which will be called the gbr11 Peters & May this season, will also get a shot of preseason water when the team heads to Evansville, Ind., on June 13-14 for an exhibition against the U-3 Master Tire. The U-3, a piston-powered boat, hasn’t raced on the H1 Unlimited circuit since 2010, when U-3 owner Ed Cooper had a falling out with H1 chairman Sam Cole. There has not been an unlimited hydroplane on the water in Evansville since 2009. ... The HAPO Columbia Cup is set for July 25-27 on the Columbia River.

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