KENNEWICK -- Vince Xaudaro has had his share of ups and downs in hydro racing.
This weekend, the 1985 graduate of Kamiakin High will make his yearly homecoming at the Columbia Cup in front of thousands of area fans, and it may be the saddest return he's ever had to make.
Xaudaro is returning to his hometown without his father, his introduction to the sport he's now made his life's passion.
"It's a little bittersweet," Xaudaro said. "My dad passed away this year, so it's hard to come back to the first race that he won't see me at."
Never miss a local story.
Stephen Xaudaro introduced his son to hydro racing at a young age and backed his son's emergence in the sport as a huge supporter.
"He started bringing me to races in the mid-1970s, when I was really little," Xaudaro said.
In memory, Xaudaro drives the UL-929, a significant number that reminds him of his father every day.
"The 929 on the boat is his birthday," Xaudaro said. "That's gonna be hard this weekend."
Still Xaudaro loves the Tri-Cities. He's been racing here since 2001, and was excited to take a fairly-new boat out on the water in front of local fans.
"To be back in Tri-Cities is great," he said. "It's a fast course and it's a really good place."
After wrecking a previous boat three years ago in Silverdale, Xaudaro ride-shared with "Smokin' Joe" Souza the past two years.
But he found a co-owner in Tim Van Hollebeke to help him bring back his own ride, one he hopes to bring back to life.
"It's good to have Tim on as an ownership partner," Xaudaro said. "We couldn't have done it without him."
"This is basically 70 to 80 percent a new boat," he added. "It's nice to be back in my boat. When we hit the water today it's going to be the first time in the rebuild."
The start had a hitch as an inspector pulled the boat from launching in the pits in the morning testing session Friday.
But Xaudaro's team fixed the problem and got on the water for the afternoon session, posting a speed of 90.303 mph.
He'll have plenty of support this weekend, admitting technology like the internet has put him in touch with plenty of old faces.
"It's nice with Facebook now," he said. "I get a lot of friends I grew up with say, 'Hey, we see you out at the races.' When you have that communication, you find out more people are paying attention to what you're doing that you realize. Coming here I get that more than anywhere else."
When Xaudaro gets back on the water today ready to compete, it won't be with his biggest fan in attendance.
But his father's memory lives on in the hull of the all-black boat and is displayed proudly on the side of it for all of his fans to see -- fans who will be cheering loudly to welcome home their driver.
"Even though they don't come into the pits and I don't see them, I know they're out there," Xaudaro said. "It's nice to know that my friends that I don't really see much are still cheering me on. It's really cool that I can have that."