J. Michael Kelly wins the 2017 HAPO Columbia Cup
Two hundred and thirty-seven days.
That was the length of time between the American Power Boat Association stripping J. Michael Kelly of his 2016 HAPO Columbia Cup win in favor of Jimmy Shane, and Kelly capturing his redemption on the Columbia River.
The latter came to fruition when Kelly powered the U-12 Graham Trucking hull past a six-boat field in the Columbia Cup final Sunday to finally capture his first victory in the Tri-Cities.
And boy, did it feel sweet.
“It means the world,” Kelly said. “It just shows the dedication these guys have. Throughout the weekend, 100 degree weather on top of that boat, never stopping. Getting me the best boat they can, and they deserve that.
“I’m just the guy who gets to sit in the cockpit and go race, and I think those guys are crazy. But I’m glad they’re crazy.”
The U-12 had been rebuilt this off-season and, while other teams made it out to preseason testing in the Tri-Cities and Lake Guntersville, Ala., and an exhibition at the Madison Regatta in Indiana, the Graham Trucking team opted to keep the boat at its home port in Milton to improve it.
The result for this weekend, through the heat races, was a boat that looked like it could pace the field but couldn’t find the timing on its starts. The U-12 team was hit with penalties in the milling period in Heat 3B and at the start of 4A.
But the timing, and the power, came together in the final when the rest of the field had to drag its heels to avoid hitting the start line early, allowing Kelly to go flying by in Lane 4 to take nearly a rooster-tail lead heading into the first turn that would never be threatened.
Kelly wasn’t sure what the crew changed with the setup to give him his fastest ride of the weekend in the most critical race, but he was more than happy with the result.
“It was a shiny thing sitting in the truck, I’m sure,” Kelly said. “My crew chief and owner told me ‘you should be going faster this heat.’ We’ve been going back and forth with engines, fighting water issues — we’d have like 300 pounds of water in the boat. So we solved that issue, we were lighter. We had a good combo for that final, and it worked out good.”
The cup victory was the team’s first under Rob Graham — founder and owner of Seattle’s Graham Trucking — who took over ownership of the team this season.
“It’s pretty cool for him,” Shane said. “First race as an owner, what more can you ask than for us to get him a win. We’re gonna be getting many more for him.”
With Kelly pulling away, Shane — driving the U-1 Miss HomeStreet — was chasing Jimmy King in the piston-powered U-3 Grigg’s Presents the Miss Ace Hardware for second place. Shane initially had the inside position, but swung out wide in Turn 1 of the second lap — through King’s wake — and never recovered ground, allowing King to take the silver medal.
With Andrew Tate’s U-9 Les Schwab Tires crossing the line in fourth, Shane maintained a narrow, 36-point lead after the season’s first race weekend. Tate leads third-place Kelly by 79 points.
“There’s going to be those three boats right there all season,” Shane said. “It’s very competitive right now. Every week is going to be a battle.”
The field figures to get even more competitive with the U-16 Oberto Beef Jerky boat, driven by veteran JW Myers and powered by the dynamic Ellstrom Racing team, joining the fold for the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at SeaFair in Seattle next weekend, a decision the team announced Thursday.
Shane, the four-time defending national high points champion, was looking for his fourth straight Tri-City victory — a feat previously only accomplished by Dave Villwock — and fifth overall. He lost to King in Heat 4A, ending a streak of five straight heat wins on the Columbia.
The U-99.9 Leland Unlimiteds Racing Presents Carstars Powered Miss Rock team and driver Greg Hopp got their hull to finish all five heats it was eligible for over the weekend, earning a fifth-place finish in the final.
Tom Thompson had a couple of nice runs in the U-11 DiJulio Presents J&D’s on Sunday, but had his bumpy finals ride end after losing power in the fourth turn of Lap 4. Race officials overturned his disqualification in Saturday’s Heat 1A, however, so he took 1,250 points (one win, two second-place and one third-place finishes) from the weekend.