KENNEWICK -- The first day of competition at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup -- a day-long parade of hydroplanes -- was more notable for who didn't win rather than who did.
Steve David, driving the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto in Heat 1C, made a crucial mental mistake that cost him a one-lap penalty and 231 points, digging himself a deeper hole in trying to get to today's final -- not to mention the Air National Guard national high points championship.
"For national championship points, that's not the way to get them," David said. "We've got the great boat. We just need to get the great driver back."
David had settled into lane 1 well before the start of the race, puttering along at 5 mph down the Benton County side of the river.
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But as he came into the east end turn, Ken Muscatel in the U-25 97 Rock sped up around the outside of him. David took the bait and sped up too.
But he needed to reach the score-up bouy coming out of turn 2 under the 1-minute mark before the race. Instead, he got there at perhaps 1:00.1 and was penalized a lap.
"That was critically stupid," David said. "Call it a brain fart. I knew it was that close. I picked it up too early, about half a second too early."
That opened the door for Kip Brown in the U-17 Miss Red Dot, who changed his race strategy and held back for the victory and 400 points.
"(Team owner and uncle Nate Brown) told me Steve had a penalty coming up for the start," said Kip Brown. "That little misstep by Steve David allowed us to take the heat. That allowed me to change my strategy completely. My intention was to leapfrog the field before the start. But I didn't have to."
David had to settle for a fourth-place finish and 169 points.
That was the biggest surprise of the day.
In the other two heats, Dave Villwock in the U-96 Spirit of Qatar (Heat 1A) and Jeff Bernard in the U-5 Graham Trucking (Heat 1B) came away with victories.
Villwock tried to settle into lane 2 before his race began. But he was pushed out into lane 3 on the backside.
With the rest of the field jockeying for position, Villwock let them have at it.
"They were out of position to get speed at the start," he said. "I just tried to get a perfect start. All I tried to do was force their hand, make them get up there to the start early. They were into the turn way too early."
Villwock hit the starting line pretty much dead on. So did Mark Evans in the U-57 Formulaboats.com. But Evans was starting way out on the outside.
So Villwock made it in and out of the east end turn first and was never threatened to gain 400 points.
J.Michael Kelly, driving the 88 Degree Men, came from fourth place after the first lap to finish second and get 300 points.
Kelly wasn't happy with his own performance.
"I was definitely one of the slowest out there," he said. "I was pretty far off. But the guys gave me a good boat setup. And a good boat setup goes a long ways. Second place is huge. When you're struggling you take what you can get."
Bernard and Scott Liddycoat, teammate drivers, got a chance to compete in the same heat for the first time this season, and they finished 1-2 in Heat 1B.
Bernard finished first for 400 points.
Liddycoat drove the U-7 Valken.com to a second-place finish. But he was docked a monetary fine and the loss of 50 points for an illegal lane change before the race began. He finished with 250 points.
Bernard waited until after the boats reached the score-up bouy on the Pasco side of the river, then leapfrogged past Brian Perkins in the U-21 Albert Lee Appliance and into the inside lane.
To do so, a driver has to get five boat lengths ahead before making the lane change. The problem is that same driver may reach the starting line way too soon and he has to slow down. By the time the race starts, he's not at full speed.
"I had to slow down," Bernard said. "But it pays off to have my teammate in lane 2. These things accelerate so well that it was OK to slow down. I'd rather make a slow start in lane 1 than a fast start in lane 5."
Racing continues today, with Heat 2A at 1:50 p.m., Heat 2B at 2:10 p.m., and Heat 2C at 2:30 p.m.
H1 Unlimited officials will determine after those races whether there will be two or three preliminary heats before the 4:30 p.m. final.
If 14 boats are still able to race, there would be an extra preliminary heat. If there are 13 or less, there will be two heats.