Three years ago, Jimmy Shane — the top driver in the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing — watched a rookie driver named Andrew Tate step into the U-9 Les Schwab Tires boat and beat him in qualifying at the HAPO Columbia Cup.
It opened his and everyone’s eyes about the new kid in town.
“I expected it,” said Shane at the time. “He’s driven every kind of smaller boat. He drives pretty hard. He’s younger. He’s better looking. That’s no bueno.”
Told that story Saturday afternoon, Tate smiled. “That means a lot to me,” he said.
The competitive battle between Shane and the younger Tate has become a major storyline in H1 Unlimited racing this year.
The two drivers have gone head-to-head 27 times over the last three years in either preliminary heat races or finals.
Shane, driving the U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank, has finished ahead of Tate 15 times, while Tate has 12 finishes ahead of the veteran.
But a closer look reveals that Shane beat Tate five of seven times in 2016, Tate’s rookie season in which he was learning how to drive the bigger boats.
The two split 14 match ups last season, going 7-7. And after Shane out dueled Tate in Heat 2B on Saturday in the 2018 HAPO Columbia Cup, they’re 3-3 against each other this season.
It’s been a great battle between the two drivers.
“I think there is a level of trust that we can race against each other, and race hard,” said Shane, who is 32 but has been driving unlimiteds for 10 years already.
“But at the same time, we’re only gonna give each other what is allowed.”
Neither one knew each other when Tate joined the circuit in 2016. Tate had been driving smaller boats in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
But Tate knew who Shane was.
“My rookie season, when I was just breaking in, I grew up in the sport because of my dad (unlimited driver Mark Tate),” said Andrew Tate. “You look for the idols, heroes, people you look up to. You understand who the great drivers of that era are.
For me, watching Jimmy Shane and J. Michael Kelly, they’re the cream of the crop. Jimmy and J. Michael, those two to me I could put on the same level.”
It’s funny coming from Tate, who turns 29 in August. Shane is not that much older. Shane doesn’t feel comfortable just stepping in and mentoring anyone. But he has no problems offering help to anyone who asks.
“I just need to concentrate on being myself no matter what, and the rest will follow,” said Shane. They may not be extremely close, but there is a mutual respect. “We get along,” said Tate. “He’s a great personality.”
Yes, said Shane, they get along well.
“There is very little controversy,” Shane said. “I’m hoping that’s the mindset of all drivers to help the sport grow.”
Their respect extends to the water. “I think that, unlike other drivers, sometimes I don’t know what Andrew is going to do in a race,” said Shane. “Andrew will sometimes switch things up on me.”
The two have had many scenarios over the 27 races.
“You have to get inside,” said Tate. “He’s beaten me from the outside and I’ve beaten him from the outside. But if you go to the outside you have to have great timing marks. And then get as much momentum as possible. If you go to the inside, it’s a question as to how much speed you have to give up to get it.”
Such was the case Saturday afternoon. Tate decided to take the inside lane. Shane stayed back in the milling period, then picked up speed and timed the start well enough that he beat Tate to the first turn. Shane got a little light in that turn, but he kept the boat on plane and pulled away for the win.
“I worry about my own racing 100 percent of the time, until I need to react to a situation,” Shane admitted before the race. “We have our timing marks that we concentrate on. But my radio guy, Nick (Bononcini), and I are all about situational awareness out there.”
Tate is also prepared. “I have a friend here, Jimmy Geblein, and we go over scenarios,” said Tate. “With four heat races and a final, you have to have four to five plans against Jimmy.”
But Tate also admits Shane has a lot more experience right now. “Jimmy has been doing this three times as long as I have,” said Tate. “So he has three times as many scenarios.”
The cat-and-mouse game in the milling period – whether a driver decides to cut across the course to get a preferred lane – is also important for the two drivers.
“The key is the 5 minutes leading up the the actual race against Shane,” said Tate.
The Shane-Tate battle has become the best show on H2O this season. Everyone gets excited when the U-1 and U-9 are in a heat against each other.
“They know that there will be two drivers out there racing as hard as they can,” said Shane. “It helps keep the fans engaged.”
“Jimmy has the best equipment, but we’re knocking on the door,” said Tate. “I hope we can keep doing this. I enjoy racing against Jimmy. We bring out the best against each other. As a competitive driver, you want to be the best. And when I beat Jimmy Shane I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
▪ In Heat 2B, after Shane finished first and Tate was second, Brian Perkins drove the U-21 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance finished third.
The U-11 Reliable Tool presents J&D’s with driver Tom Thompson had problems getting on plane and returned to the pits before the race began.
▪ Driver Cal Phipps ran away in the U-1918 Oberto Beef Jerky from Kelly in the U-12 Graham Trucking in Heat 2A. Phipps got to the first turn first on the opening lap in lane 2, while Kelly was right there in lane 1.
But Phipps made a great turn, carving the river perfectly, and pulled away with no threat from Kelly to place first. Kelly did hang on for second, but was later disqualified with a fuel violation.
That gave Dustin Echols in the U-440 Bucket List Racing a second-place finish. The DQ also imperils the U-12 from making Sunday’s final. The team only has 70 points going into Sunday’s races. & Tate won Heat 1A, holding off Perkins in the U-21 for the victory.
Phipps battled with Perkins for second before fading back to third. Echols finished fourth. Kelly shut down the U-12 after the turbine engine broke down.
▪ Shane easily took 1B after half the field was lost before the heat was halfway over. Jimmy King in the U-3 Grigg’s presents Ace Hardware cut off Shane in the pre-race milling period, washing Shane’s boat down.
King would eventually be fine $300 and docked 150 points by H1 officials, but things got worse as he lost a piston in an engine and shut the boat down during the race.
The U-3 has already lost two of its four engines, and the team opted not to run in the second heat race on Saturday. Its plan is to run Sunday.
Meanwhile, Aaron Salmon never got out onto the course in the U-99.9 CARSTARS powers Miss Rock, thanks to electrical issues. So that left it to Thompson in the U-11 to try to catch Shane, which was impossible.
Thompson settled for second place and 300 points.
▪ Greg Hopp drove the GP-1 Schellhase Racing to one Grand Prix preliminary heat win, while Ed Preston drove the GP-20 The Truss Company presents Miss Tri-Cities to another victory.
In the 5-liter division, heat race winners were Kurt Myers in the E-26 Flight Time, and Jeff Bernard in the E-9 Clack Motorsports/Advanced Transmission Center. & H1 Unlimited racing continues Sunday with heat 3A at 9:40 a.m.
There will be four preliminary heat races Sunday, and the final is set for 4:20 p.m.
▪ Sunday’s draw for the first two heat races: U-3, U-9, U-11, U-12 and U-99.9 are in heat 3A. The U-1, U-21, U-440 and U-1918 are in 3B.