Mike Webster spent last year’s Lamb Weston Columbia Cup in Lampson Pits, acting as the driver’s representative.
What else could the 33-year-old driver do?
Two weeks before, during the 2012 Gold Cup in Detroit, Webster flipped his U-22 Webster Racing boat, destroying it in the process.
A year later, though, he’s basically got a new boat that’s ready to roll in this weekend’s Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.
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It took a lot of hard work the past 11 months to get back where he is.
“Just about every available moment was used on getting this boat ready,” Webster said. “I’m a health and P.E. teacher for kids grades 7-12 in Reading, Pa. I have a wife and two kids, and every free moment I had was spent in the shop getting this boat ready.”
Not right away, mind you.
It took him a while to get going after the flip.
“It took about a month to lick our wounds,” he said. “About the middle of August we started trying to figure things out.”
It was mainly Mike, his father, Steve Webster, and one other crew member who would spend nights in the shop, first tearing the boat down to almost nothing and then building it back up.
“At times, other guys from our crew would come in,” Mike Webster said. “But the burden was mostly on me and my dad.”
The boat, the backup Oberto boat which was purchased from the Miss Madison team back in 2011, is better now than when he drove it before the flip.
“It’s tremendously different,” Webster said. “The boat was stripped down to a complete shell. We basically have a brand new boat.”
To help expedite the comeback process, Webster started a Rebuild the U-22 Campaign website on Facebook, looking for hydroplane racing fans to donate to the project.
It wasn’t the main source of revenue — that came from Webster, his wife and his parents — but it certainly helped.
“The fans, there is no way we could have done this without them,” said Webster. “And it did afford us the chance to build a really good fan base. We thought (the campaign) was really unique. And it was world wide. We had fans from Europe donate.”
Webster needed every free moment to get the boat race-ready.
“Literally we were in Sacramento (on May 31) putting the electrical system in overnight before that first (North American) race,” he said.
It’s been good too.
“We got our first (career) heat win in Detroit (a few weeks ago),” Webster said. “It was good for the team, a real morale booster.”
And it gives his team hope.
“The teams this year, for whatever reason, are more even,” Webster said.
The Webster family comes into this weekend’s race without a sponsor, and Mike is not sure whether they’ll get one.
“I don’t think so, but we’d absolutely take a sponsor,” he said. “We’re here. The boat’s here. It is what it is.”
After being beached in 2012, he’s just happy to be racing in the Tri-Cities this year.
“We’re throwing caution to the wind,” he said. “We have a game plan. But I’ll be a happy man if we’re coming out of here in one piece. We want to have a good showing.”
Friday’s schedule on the river (subject to change)
8:15 a.m. — Grand Prix West testing
9:10 a.m. — H1 Unlimited testing
11:30 a.m. — HAPO Air Show
1:05 p.m. — 1-Liters testing
1:35 p.m. — H1 Unlimited qualifying
3:45 p.m. — Vintage testing
4:20 p.m. — 1-Liter Dash
4:40 p.m. — Grand Prix West Dash
5:05 p.m. — Charter Business H1 Unlimited Dash for Cash.