Hydros preseason practice on the Columbia River
Three weeks ago, Jimmy Shane pulled off the rarest of feats when he had a perfect weekend in Madison, Ind.
The 33-year-old driver of the U-6 Miss HomeStreet was top qualifier, won all four of his preliminary heat races, then took the American Power Boat Association Gold Cup final victory for his 19th career H1 Unlimited hydroplane title.
“I’ve had probably five perfect weekends in my (unlimited) career,” said Shane. “It’s extremely hard. Even during Guntersville, I made a driving mistake in a heat race, and I jumped the gun. Having a perfect weekend is one of those things you just can’t take for granted.”
Shane, the Miss Madison Racing team, and the citizens of Madison, Ind. – who own the U-6 boat – are taking nothing for granted this season.
“We’ve had a little bit different start to the season compared to last year,” admitted Shane.
And even after victories in the first two races of the season – Guntersville, Ala., and Madison – Shane knows that anything can happen as the H1 fleet comes to the Tri-Cities this weekend for the HAPO Columbia Cup.
All he has to do is look at last season, which was the first time in five seasons he and his team did not win the national high-points title. And it was the first time Shane himself hadn’t won the national title: He won it in 2013 with the U-5 Graham Trucking team, and from 2014-17 with the Madison team.
The 2018 problems began when then-crew chief Dan Hoover died of suicide in February.
That obviously devastated the Madison team members, and it set everything back. The team had to be reconfigured, some with new or different assignments.
The plan to unveil a new hull, which Hoover was spearheading, was pushed back to mid-season in the Tri-Cities – not always the best time to do that.
But things looked hopeful after the first two races.
After a close loss to Andrew Tate in the U-9 Jones Racing team in Alabama in the final – by mere feet – Shane bounced back to win the hometown race in Madison.
A tough 2018
Yet everything fell apart in the Tri-Cities, as Shane and the team were disqualified in a few heats, thanks to problematic turbines.
“Last year was a culmination of a lot of things: Dan, a new team, a new boat. There was a lot going on,” said Shane. “And we had a couple of engines last year that were very troublesome. They were very fast, but they cost us points.”
Bad enough that the HomeStreet team was all but eliminated from repeating as season champs after the Tri-Cities race, even with three races left in the season.
Coming into the Columbia Cup last season, Tate and the U-9 had 3,200 points, while Shane and the HomeStreet were at 2,760.
After Tri-Cities (in which Tate won, snapping Shane’s Columbia Cup win streak at four), Tate led Shane 5,280 to 3,360.
It was over. Tate just needed to finish the remaining races, which he did.
Since last season, though, the HomeStreet team has stepped things up.
“There is more focus and drive to what the team’s goals are,” said Shane. “Last year, we got stretched thin. But now, we definitely are coming to be prepared for each race as we’ve ever been. And we’re taking it one race at each time. That means qualifying, then the preliminary heats, and then the final.”
Last year’s crew chief, Cindy Shirley, stepped down from the position in April, citing expanding professional responsibilities in her full-time position as director of the Office of Research for the University of Washington Bothell.
Since then, the Madison team has looked to two former crew chiefs, brothers Mike and Larry Hanson, to lead the team.
The team has never officially named Mike Hanson as crew chief, although he is listed on the team website as such.
“But Mike has definitely taken on that role with the team,” said Shane. “We’re a team. It’s a just a title.”
And so far, so good.
It helps HomeStreet’s cause that the Jones Racing team and driver Tate – now with the U-1 designation for being defending champion — could not make it to Guntersville for the opener, thanks to no available sponsorship money.
But Shane and the HomeStreet team have already compiled 4,025 season points.
J. Michael Kelly and the U-12 Graham Trucking are in second with 2,944 points. That’s 1,081 behind the leader.
Still, Shane takes nothing for granted.
“The U-1 definitely showed their strength in the final heat in Madison,” said Shane. “If we were not inside of Andrew at the start of the race we probably wouldn’t have won.”
And now the fleet adds three more teams this weekend to try to take down Shane: the U-3 Grigg’s presents Miss Ace Hardware and driver Jimmy King; the U-99.9 Darrell Strong presents Payne West Insurance (a new hull making its debut) with driver Brian Perkins; and the U-1918 Oberto Super Salami (the Madison team backup boat) and driver Jeff Bernard.
“It’s a great sign to see 10 boats in the pits,” said Shane. “It’ll be a rocking weekend.”
It’ll be fast too.
Tri-Cities hydro venue has long been compared to the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. It’s one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR.
“Tri-Cities is an amazing course, with the current, the size of the course, and the speed,” said Shane.
It also has one of the tougher turns in the H1 circuit.
“That turn 1, the water just collects there with the boat wakes,” Shane said. “Every time I go in there I cringe.”
Shane admits the Roostertail turn in Detroit is the roughest turn in the circuit. But Tri-Cities’ Turn 1 is next. However, with Detroit not hosting an unlimited race this year, Tri-Cities gets the top nod.
“On the other hand, turns 3 and 4 (the west end of the course) in Tri-Cities are the best turns in the H1 circuit,” Shane said.
The HomeStreet team will be coming into this weekend full of confidence.
“What makes me happy is seeing our team achieve our goals. And I mean all of our goals,” Shane said. “Work well together. Having fun. Enjoying the races. And winning makes it very easy. One thing we have is resources to throw at the boat, such as gearboxes, propellers, engines.”
Shane believes those resources will get him, HomeStreet Bank, the Madison race team, and the city of Madison back on top again.
“Our mission is to win the title again,” he said. “It definitely is a year of redemption.”