This is the week. Boat race weekend.
What has always been the Tri-Cities’ biggest sporting event, the HAPO Columbia Cup, begins Friday with qualifying and finishes Sunday afternoon with the Columbia Cup final.
In between, there will be four different classes of racing and a total of 28 boats that will hit the water.
Race director Aaron Stephens has confirmed 10 unlimited hydroplanes, another seven Grand Prix World hydros, five more 5-liter boats and, finally, six vintage boats.
Unlimited hydroplane racers
▪ The U-1 Jones Racing team, owned by Mike and Lori Jones, is back in the Tri-Cities and will try to defend its Columbia Cup title.
Andrew Tate is back to drive the boat, but crew chief Jeff Campbell isn’t supposed to be. We say that because while the team missed out on Guntersville, Campbell was in Madison to help out.
The team is expected to race both in Tri-Cities and Seattle.
So far they took second in Madison and are seventh overall.
▪ The U-3 Go3 Racing team will make its season debut in the Tri-Cities.
Owner Ed Cooper Jr. has the only piston-powered boat in the fleet, and he won’t run it unless he finds sponsorship money.
He gets that in the Tri-Cities, thanks to Charlie Grigg, who owns Grigg’s Department Store and the Ace Hardware stores in the Tri-Cities.
Once again, Grigg has spearheaded the effort to bring the U-3 to the Tri-Cities from Evansville, Ind.
Veteran Jimmy King will once again be the driver.
▪ The U-7 Spirit of Detroit, owned by Dave Bartush from Michigan, will be driven by Canadian Bert Henderson.
The team has been a pleasant surprise after the first two races, finishing on the podium both times.
So far, they took third in Guntersville, third in Madison and are third overall.
▪ The U-6 Miss HomeStreet Bank, owned by the city of Madison, Ind., and driven by standout driver Jimmy Shane.
The team is off to a great start by winning both races.
The fact that Mike and Larry Hanson are back to help the team — both former crew chiefs — makes the team so much better.
In fact, the U-6 already has a 1,081-point lead ahead of the runner-up in the national high points standings — the U-12 — after just two races.
The U-6 will be the favorite this weekend.
So far, they took first in Guntersville, first in Madison and are first overall.
▪ The U-11 J&D’s presents Reliable Diamond Tools features the family-operated team owned by Scott and Shannon Raney. Driver Tom Thompson from Maryland was let go by the Raneys last week, and replaced by Jamie Nilson.
The Raneys’ boat gets faster every year but hasn’t yet cracked the upper echelon of teams.
So far, they have taken sixth place in Guntersville, fifth place in Madison and are sixth overall.
▪ The U-12 Graham Trucking.
Team owner Rob Graham decided after missing much of the 2018 season, that he’d bring the team out for the entire 2019 circuit.
J. Michael Kelly is once again driving the boat, and for him it’s like second nature.
So far, they took second in Guntersville, fourth in Madison and second overall.
▪ The U-98 Graham Trucking American Dream. Graham’s second boat in the fleet, purchased from the Stacey Briseno estate after her tragic death last September.
Graham wanted to make sure the boat stayed in the fleet, and he’s put rookie Corey Peabody behind the wheel.
So far, they took fifth in Guntersville, sixth in Madison and are fourth overall.
▪ The U-99.9 KISW will be making its debut this week.
Owned by Brian and Greg O’Farrell, the boat has a new hull.
Brian Perkins is once again the driver.
▪ The U-440 Bucket List Racing, owned by Kelly and Sharon Stocklin, and driven by Dustin Echols.
It’s the smallest boat on the circuit at 28 feet.
Stocklin started it out as an experimental G Class automotive powered boat that was eventually converted into turbine power.
So far they have taken fourth place in Guntersville, seventh in Madison and are fifth overall.
▪ The U-1918 Oberto just tested on Lake Washington last Thursday in Seattle.
Larry Oberto, the son of Art Oberto, struck a deal with the Miss Madison team to run its backup boat at both the Tri-Cities and a week later in Seattle.
It’s a good boat too, winning a number of races and national high-points titles.
It also adds to the boat count.
Jeff Bernard will be the driver, although Columbia Cup race director Aaron Stephens said Bernard has been out of the unlimited circuit long enough that he’ll have to requalify as a driver this coming weekend on the Columbia River.
Hydro racing details
• Here is the H1 Unlimited schedule for the coming weekend: Qualifying on Friday starts at 1:30 p.m.; heat races on Saturday are set for 1:50 p.m., 2:15, 4:20, and 4:45.
Sunday’s schedule has more preliminary heats are 10:55 a.m., 11:20, 2:25 p.m., and 2:50.
The final is set for 4:30 p.m.
The Water Follies organization pays more money to H1 to use the Gold Cup format, which adds that fourth set of preliminary heat races.
• Stephens said the six vintage boats are broken up into categories.
“We have three picklefork boats in the 1977 U-00 Atlas Van Lines, the 1982 U-00 Atlas, and the 1973 U-25 Pay N’ Pak,” said Stephens. “Then we have three shovel-nose boats, with the 1957 U-77 Miss Wahoo, the 1962 Miss Bardahl, and the 1957 U-80 Blue Chip.”
• Fans can get an up close look at a number of unlimiteds and Grand Prix boats Wednesday, July 24, at the Columbia Center Mall parking lot.
Hydros on the Mall returns from 4-7 p.m. Admission is free.
Along with the boats this year, people can see a classic car and motorcycle exhibition, featuring Mid-Columbia Mopars, PNW Mustangs Club and the Rattlesnake Mountain HOG Chapter from 5-7 p.m.
This year’s event also includes kids face painting, Columbia Center mall retailers sponsoring a runway with games and activities, and a food court with food and refreshments from food trucks and restaurants.
A beer garden also is planned.
Race fans are encouraged to stop by the mall tent and register to win weekend passes to the races.
The next day, the teams will enter the Lampson pits to get set up for the weekend.