DETROIT -- Don't try to tell Cal Phipps that an unlimited hydroplane driver isn't an athlete.
Phipps found that out last weekend when the rookie drove the U-13 Spirit of Detroit in the Lucas Oil Indiana Governor's Cup in Madison, Ind.
"I found out last weekend that I've got to be in better shape," said Phipps. "It seems like your going 100 miles-an-hour in a motor home. You go through the turn and things can get out of control in a hurry.
"Someone said it's like getting in a Lincoln Towne Car going 80 mph on a freeway, then you spin around and get on the hood. It takes more muscle to turn the thing, and there's a lot going on so you are really busy. You've really got to pay attention."
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Welcome to the unlimiteds, Cal. And guess what?
You'll get a second chance to race that boat, starting today when qualifying begins for the American Power Boat Association's Gold Cup in Detroit.
Phipps and the U-13 are just one of 11 teams vying for the sport's most prestigious trophy.
Qualifying is set for today, with six heat races scheduled Saturday, four more on Sunday, and the final Sunday afternoon.
Phipps will have a lot of family and friends watching, since it's his home town.
"There's a lot of pressure," he admits. "I know what this river can do to ya. It can end a career or a job. The whole race is won on (boat) setup, in having the right gearing. You don't want all top-end speed because you've got to get through the turn at the small end."
That small-turn end will test Phelps in the bigger boats.
Phelps got his first taste of driving an unlimited last year in the Tri-Cities.
"I did a few laps by myself," he said. "Then I ran over my own wake and I thought I hit a brick wall."
And according to J.W. Myers, the driver of the U-37 Miss Peters & May, the Columbia River course is the easiest on the circuit.
"Madison is long and narrow," Myers said. "Detroit, you have to go into that small turn. Seattle, that place is just a mess. The Tri-Cities is like hanging out at Talladega. They have those big sweeping turns. Cal must've thought, 'This can't be too tough.'"
But even Myers, who has raced all kinds of boats, knows it is.
"These things are so massive," he said. "It's like racing a school bus on a 2- to 2 1/2-mile track. You're more busy, is the word I use. But it narrows down to the absolute size of it. Then there's the violence of it inside the coockpit -- especially when you go through the turn."
Myers stepped in last year for the U-37 team when the main driver, Jean Theoret, was recovering from injuries sustained after a flip at Madison.
"I had a final heat in Seattle last year," Myers said. "I came back to the pits and I had never been so physically exhausted in my life. I didn't want to be the weak link on the team. Ever since then, I've been working out."
Which is what Phipps is doing now.
"You've got to have special training for your neck muscles, head and shoulders," Phipps said. "I have a new respect for these (unlimited) guys.
"I gotta get back into the gym."
NOTES: After this weekend's Gold Cup, the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup is the next race on the schedule, set for July 23-25 in Columbia Park. ..., One team that won't be in Detroit this weekend is the U-3 piston-powered Cooper's team. Owner Ed Cooper withdrew his boat after qualifying in Madison last weekend after he disagreed with H1 Unlimiteds officials in their limiting qualifying to one session each weekend. In protest, Cooper did not pay his team's APBA membership fee for 2010. ... After winning the hometown Madison race, driver Steve David and the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto enter this weekend atop the national high points standings board with 1,525 points. Myers and the U-37 are second at 1,320; and J.Michael Kelly and the U-7 Graham Truicking are third at 1,300.
* Jeff Morrow: 509-582-1507; email@example.com