If there is one word to describe the 2014 H1 Unlimited hydroplane season, it may be transition.
At least that’s how H1 Chairman Sam Cole feels.
“I really think it’ll be kind of a transition year,” Cole said Friday night from Madison, Ind., where the season opener is taking place this weekend. “We lost (Oberto driver) Steve David (to retirement). But more importantly, some teams are transitioning.”
Nate Brown, who owns the U-17 Our Gang Racing, is going to race his boat in the Northwest, but he’s looking to get out.
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Billy and Jane Schumacher are trying to sell their U-37 boat to Bill Cahill, owner of Beacon Plumbing.
Erick Ellstrom is trying to finish his new U-96 Spirit of Qatar.
“And I’m trying to understand what’s going on with the Leland team,” said Cole.
That team isn’t in Madison this weekend, either.
“I was scrambling to even get boats here,” said Cole. “The (U-12) Centurion just left Seattle (on Thursday).”
So as it is, the Madison Regatta field is just eight boats.
“But I think the eight we have are fairly competitive,” said Cole.
And that’s what he wants.
“I’ll be happy if we have a real competitive season,” said Cole.
And it all starts today with qualifying on the Ohio River. But that’s it. All of the actual competitive racing will be held Sunday.
It’s a new format Cole is pushing, and Madison’s race officials are willing to give it a try.
Cole believes most people don’t want to watch a race over a few days anymore.
“The world is changing,” he said. “Somehow, we’ve got to get a whole race down to four hours.”
You don’t go, he says, to the Indianapolis 500 to watch them race just 50 laps on Saturday, then come back the next day to watch the finish.
As a sidenote, the HAPO Columbia Cup, which is set for July 25-27, has the same schedule format it has had the past few years: testing and qualifying on Friday, two heat races on Saturday, and the rest of the competitive heats and the final on Sunday.
The other thing Cole said he’d like to take care of is getting the Coeur d’Alene race back on track.
Just this week, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department refused to grant race organizers the required permits to race, putting the Aug. 29-31 race in jeopardy.
“We are trying everything we can to help them out in Coeur d’Alene,” said Cole.
Meanwhile, as the season goes on, more boats will appear on the circuit. Here’s a quick look at the season:
How many races are there?
Right now, there are seven if you still count Couer d’Alene.
It’s Madison this weekend, the the APBA Gold Cup in Detroit on July 11-13; the HAPO Columbia Cup here in the Tri-Cities on July 25-27; Seafair on Aug. 1-3; Coeur d’Alene on Aug. 29-31; San Diego on Sept. 12-14; and Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 20-22.
Are there new starting procedures?
Why, yes there are. The silly looking park and starts, where some drivers tried getting the inside late by trolling forever in the inside lane, are gone.
Drivers must be at a minimum 80 mph in the milling period before the race begins.
What about the boats and drivers?
Here’s a look at the changes:
U1 Graham Trucking — The team won the national high points title last season with driver Jimmy Shane. But Shane left the team in the offseason to drive the Oberto. So owner Ted Porter asked J. Michael Kelly — who drove the U37 last season — to drive the champion boat this season.
U3 Go3Racing — The only piston-powered boat has been drydocked the last four years as owner Ed Cooper and Cole have had a dispute with each other. Cooper won’t race the boat until Cole is removed as chairman.
But a few things have happened lately. Cooper and driver Jimmy King raced in an exhibition last month in Evansville against the gbr11 Peters & May. And the 3 team is listed on the H1 website for the first time in a few years.For now, though, the team sits in drydock.
U6 Oberto — Lots of changes here. David retired after the 2013 season, so Shane was hired away from the Graham team. Crew chief Mike Hanson left for the 96 Spirit of Qatar in the same position. And the “Oh Boy!” portion of the team name is gone.
U7 Graham Trucking — Maybe because of the low boat count at the beginning, but Porter decided to take this hull out of drydock and run it again, giving him two boats for the season. He’s hired driver Cal Phipps, who finally gets a full-time ride.
U9 Jones Racing — Owners Mike and Lori Jones took advantage of a practice day on the Columbia River at the end of May, allowing crew chief Jeff Campbell and driver Jon Zimmerman a chance to get in some early preparations. This weekend, though, they’ll be running under the flag of the Spirit of Qatar.
gbr 11 Peters & May — Owners Scott and Shannon Raney and driver Tom Thompson got a chance to run the boat last month in Evansville in that exhibition. The gbr designation reflects Great Britain, where Peters & May is headquartered.
U12 Centurion Racing — Owners Jay Leckrone and Denise Garl bought the O’Farrell family's U48, and the team is scheduled to hit every stop on the circuit. Greg Hopp returns for the team as driver.
U17 Our Gang Racing — Owner Nate Brown plans on running the boat in Tri-Cities and Seattle, with Jeff Bernard driving. The team won the Gold Cup last season, but driver Kip Brown has moved on to the U96 Spirit of Qatar.
U18 Bucket List Racing — The boat is back on the circuit after taking last year off. Owner and driver Kelly Stocklin will only race the boat in the Tri-Cities and Seattle though, with the possibility of San Diego.
U21 GoFastTurnLeft Racing — Brian Perkins and Jamie Nielsen will share time in the cockpit of this boat, which will make every stop on the circuit. Greg and Brian O’Farrell own the boat.
U-22 Webster Racing — Mike Webster is back for a second season with this boat after it was destroyed in 2012 in a flip in Detroit.
U37 Beacon Plumbing — The Schumachers may be selling to Cahill, and the team was scheduled to be in Madison originally. Now it may not be until Tri-Cities. Dave Villwock is supposed to be managing the team, and Scott Liddycoat — who last raced for Graham Trucking and was a crew member last season for Oberto — was signed as the team’s driver in the offseason. Liddycoat is taking over for Kelly.
U57 Evans BrosRacing — Mark Evans is done as an owner and driver, and he’s looking to sell all of the equipment. No takers, so far.
96 Spirit of Qatar — Erick Ellstrom took the 2013 season off to build a new boat, and it should be ready in time for the Columbia Cup. The team made news in the offseason by luring crew chief Mike Hanson away from the Oberto team, then signing Brown — who won the Gold Cup last year — to drive.
U100 Leland Unlimited — Stacy Briseno’s team should be ready at the end of this month for the Tri-Cities. A driver has not officially been named.