KENNEWICK - Jim Harvey doesn't remember much falling off the boat.
But he knew it was going to be bad.
Harvey, a former unlimited hydroplane owner, was working with the Formula boat teams last year in San Diego for Bayfair.
"We were in the staging area in the parking lot, waiting to enter the pits," said Harvey, who was in Lampson Pits on Thursday. "It was our turn to go in, and I stepped on the ladder trying to get down off the boat when the ladder collapsed. They say I did a 180 in the air before I landed."
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Harvey broke the fall on the asphalt surface with his arms, breaking them both.
"I broke the C1 (vertabrae in his neck) in four places," he said. "My neurosurgeon said I was that close to being paralyzed or dead."
It's taken him some time, but Harvey has recuperated enough to become the team manager for the 88 Degree Men hydroplane.
"I spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, then 31/2 months in a neck halo," he said.
When boat owners Billy and Jane Schumacher hired Harvey, he worked with Ron Jones Jr. with the building of a brand new boat.
"We started on April 15, and I think it took 100 days," Harvey said. "It was grueling."
But it's also been rewarding.
"In Detroit, in the first competitive heat, we won," Harvey said. "The boat turned on a dime. Then we got three seconds in a row."
And he's been reunited with driver J. Michael Kelly, the driver who got his first unlimited start when Harvey was an owner.
"It was hard to convince me to bring a rookie into the sport," Harvey said. "In 2004, we had the U-2 Trend West, and he comes out and does a 143 mph lap. I looked at him and thought 'Where have you been for the last 20 years?' When I had the opportunity to get together with him, I said yes."
Boat racing has been a major part of Harvey's life, and it's helped give him his life back after a horrible accident.
"I like to say it was forced therapy to build this boat," he said. "I was forced to get better."
w As defending Columbia Cup champion, the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto team gets to set up camp in the east end of the pits under the giant sycamore tree.
But the team has made room for the U-9 Miss Visit TRI-CITIES.com team under the tree.
The U-9, owned by Mike and Lori Jones of Seattle, was leased to the Oberto team for the Detroit Gold Cup two weeks ago after the team's main boat was heavily damaged in the season opener.
Now the U-1 is ready to go, and the Joneses are racing the U-9 both here and in Seattle.
Putting the U-9 next to the U-1 under the tree is payback for the Joneses' help. But it's also a little more.
Oberto crew chief Mike Hanson has worked on the U-9 this past offseason.
"And we work on their boat now, too," Hanson said. "We scratch each other's backs."
Jon Zimmerman will drive the U-9.
"He'll lead us through the field," Hanson joked. "He's our fullback, our lead blocker."
Ted Porter, the owner of the U-57 Formulaboats.com, said that driver Mark Evans will start out in the boat this weekend. But Bianca Bononcini will get some seat time too as she works toward becoming a qualified unlimited driver.
Mike Jones said he and his wife talked initially about running the U-9 around the entire circuit.
"But I'm a CPA and from Dec. 1 to April 30 I do nothing but work," he said. "So we knew we wouldn't be ready for the start."
They'll run the boat both here and in Seattle, and then decide about San Diego after that. Not bad for a couple who just a few years ago were looking to sell the boat.
"Racing boats gets in your blood," Mike Jones admitted. "It takes me two years to save up to run a couple of races."
H1 Unlimited chairman Sam Cole calls Madison and the Tri-Cities the Green Bay Packers of hydroplane racing in that the communities really take ownership of the races.
"Madison has the boat and the tradition," Cole said. "Here you've got people who just love the sport."