Last year’s HAPO Columbia Cup featured a little bit of everything: a loaded field, stacked with exciting youngsters and heralded veterans; deck-to-deck racing in nearly every heat; and a controversial finish in the final that literally took months to resolve.
The festivities at the 52nd Tri-City Water Follies, which begin Friday, have the trimmings to pack just as much excitement, though hopefully the weekend’s champion will be properly crowned in a more timely manner.
To refresh your memory, Jimmy Shane — the four-time reigning H1 National High Point champion — won the final heat of last year’s Columbia Cup on the water, but was later hit with a penalty for causing a collision between his U-1 Miss HomeStreet boat and Jean Theoret’s U-16 Oh Boy! Oberto hull on the second lap that forced him to finish seventh in the heat and third for the weekend in overall points. It handed J. Michael Kelly, in the U-5 Graham Trucking boat, the heat and the weekend points lead.
In response to the ruling by H1 Unlimited, the U-1 team filed an appeal to the American Power Boat Association to overturn the decision. In December, the APBA did just that, overruling H1 and giving the race to Shane, who won his fourth straight national championship regardless of the ruling.
If nothing else, the controversy and bureaucracy have added to the anticipation of returning to the Tri-Cities for both Shane and Kelly.
“We felt like we got some redemption from the result last year,” Shane said, “but we’re definitely looking forward to having it be clear as day at the end of the weekend who the winner of the race is.”
“There were a lot of guys that were frustrated,” Kelly added. “It’s one of those things that you’ve gotta just live with it and move on. We’ll try to just do it this time, and you hope it’s a clean race and nothing gets changed later on or even right after the final. You hope everything goes smoothly, and the fans get to see the actual winner in the winner’s circle.”
Shane and Kelly have finished 1-2 in the high points standings for the past three seasons. Both the U-1 Miss Madison and the now U-12 Graham Trucking teams performed major overhauls on their boats this off-season, which included stripping off the decks, but the crews’ preseason routines couldn’t have been much more different.
Heading into the HAPO Columbia Cup — the first official H1 race weekend of the season because of a revamping in format at the Madison Regatta — Shane participated in testing June 2 in the Tri-Cities, and in Guntersville, Ala. a couple weeks later. He also raced the U-1 Miss HomeStreet in the four-boat Madison Regatta June 30 through July 2, losing to the U-9 Delta Gear/Realtrac of Andrew Tate, the 2016 H1 Rookie of the Year.
“We’ve had the most testing we’ve ever been able to do in an off-season with the Tri-Cities test, and Lake Guntersville testing, and then the exhibition in Madison,” Shane said. “We really feel like we’re probably the best prepared we’ve been in the past couple years, and the boat is in the best shape it’s been in the last five years.
“That’s a good sign for us to get a positive result when we start the season off in the Tri-Cities.”
On the other hand, Kelly has yet to hit the water in the newly-renovated U-12. The team was trying to get out for testing, but opted to spend more time improving its hull, meaning the Columbia River will serve as the new boat’s proving ground.
“I know I’m excited, and so are the rest of the guys,” Kelly said. “They put a ton of work into the boat, so we’re all anxious to see how it performs now after all that hard work.”
SHANE LOOKING TO JOIN PRESTIGIOUS COMPANY
A victory for Shane this weekend would be his fourth straight in the Tri-Cities and fifth overall. In 51 years of unlimited hydroplane racing on the Columbia, no driver has won in four consecutive seasons, and only three legends of the sport have five or more Tri-City wins.
Dave Villwock is the all-time leader with eight victories, while Chip Hanauer won seven times and Bill Muncey five. Steve David and Tom D’Eath each have four Tri-City victories on their résumés.
Most Tri-City unlimited hydroplane wins
Dave Villwock, 8
Chip Hanauer, 7
Bill Muncey, 5
Jimmy Shane, 4
Steve David, 4
Tom D’Eath, 4