KENNEWICK -- There's a sign on a lift in Lampson Pits that says "Bring Back the Thunder" with the U3 right in the middle of it.
It's a tribute to Ed Cooper and the fact that his U-3 Go3Racing team isn't here this weekend for the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.
In fact, Cooper is in Evansville, Ind., where he's sitting out the season at home with his boat, one of the most popular on the H1 Unlimited circuit because it's the only piston-powered boat in the fleet.
Welcome to this season's biggest controversy in unlimited hydroplane racing.
In one corner, there's Cooper, celebrating his 25th season as a boat owner.
"This is a fine silver anniversary," quipped Cooper in a phone interview earlier this week.
In the other corner, it's Sam Cole, the chairman of the H1 Unlimited board, who says he's trying to act in the best interests of the entire fleet, not just one boat.
"The bottom line, is we've got 12 boats out here," Cole said. "I have to look at what I can do for those 12 boats racing. If Ed was here, I'd be helping 13 boats."
But Cooper's not here.
Cooper said there was a battle between Cole and the boat owners all winter long about qualifying rules.
"The agreement was a week before Madison that we'd leave the qualifying rule the way it was," Cooper said.
According to the H1 Unlimited rule book in reference to qualifying, a race site shall provide a minimum of six hours of time trials and testing per day weather permitting.
"Based on that, that's what we should get," said Cooper. "They call this drivers meeting. And now we have a new interpretation of rules. That was the beginning and end of it for me. That was a violation of the rule book."
Cole said there would only be Friday qualifying at Madison, and Cooper -- whose boat qualified when Jimmy King drove it to a lap of 143.241 mph, but damaged an engine in the process -- pulled his boat out of the competition and went home.
"I understood the consequences when I pulled the boat out," Cooper said.
Cooper is mad at Cole, and to a lesser extent, chief referee Mike Noonan, whom Cooper felt didn't do his job in enforcing the rule book.
"It's all personal between Sam and me," said Cooper, who has stated he won't come back until both Cole and Noonan are gone.
Cole feels bad that Cooper pulled out, but he feels the show must go on.
"I don't feel responsible for Ed leaving," said Cole. "I find it hard to believe he's not racing for the reason he says he's not racing. No. 1, I don't make any rules. I'm not a race official. This rule has been in there since the days of Hydro-Prop.
"But it's very simple," Cole continued. "We have testing at races. There is testing time and there is qualifying time. But only qualifying counts. And I don't know of any race site that gives us six hours."
In addition, Cole says, Cooper put forth a rule this winter that all laps should count in qualifying.
"It was voted down by the board," Cole said.
Both Cole and Cooper are members of the H1 board.
Cooper's problem is that his piston-powered boat needs time to get up to race speed. A turbine-powered boat can come right out of the box and hit anywhere from 145 to 155 mph.
"Our team needs to run a lot to get better," Cooper said. "We don't know when that fast lap is coming. We need some opportunities to run. We kind of have to creep up on them."
But Cole says H1 has to work with each race site and what that site is offering. If that means giving up water time for the airshows, he says, so be it.
"The sport needs to do things to get people out," Cole said. "We've had great crowds. But we don't want people sitting around and waiting. Candidly, we're here to race. But we need more fans.
"If I could get a window of 12 to 4 for people to watch us run, I would. But the days of 12 hours of watching races are gone. People don't have that kind of time anymore."
Cooper's response was, "Are you guys having a race there or are you having an airshow? I'll bet 80 to 90 percent of the people come there for the boat races."
Cooper said he's gotten calls from some owners, offering more money to race or help in getting a sponsor.
"But either you follow the rules or you don't," said Cooper. "If a guy has the ability to change the rules at a whim, I'm not gonna do this. It's a matter of integrity."
Cooper said a few owners have supported him.
"Guys like (U-96 Spirit of Qatar) Erick Ellstrom like to go out on the course and beat you," Cooper said. "He doesn't like the back room politics stuff. But there are some of them, and I won't name them, that say that if I'm gone they'll get a bigger check."
The irony is that Cole and Cooper come from the same town.
"We're both from Madison, and I have a lot of respect for him," Cole said of Cooper. "I wish he was here. He'd be welcome at any race."
Cooper predicted Cole would say that.
"Well, if he hadn't f----- with me, I would be there," said Cooper. "I don't know where it will shake down. My whole real fight is with Sam Cole. I'm sorry it got to this point, but I'm really comfortable with this decision."
Meanwhile, the show will go on.