Shane went out in qualifying Friday and hit a 161-plus mph qualifying lap – pretty impressive considering the afternoon heat isn’t conducive to fast speeds, nor was the sticky water of the Columbia River.
That easily put Shane at least 3 mph faster than Andrew Tate and the U-1 Delta/Realtrac, which finished second at 158.233 mph.
But Shane wasn’t finished.
“We always want to go as fast as we can in qualifying,” said Shane. “We’ll go out again. We’ve got to learn some stuff out there.”
No one is sure if anything was learned later in the day, but Shane did move up his qualifying speed to 163.573 mph.
And he did it despite the wonky water, which is usually smooth when one boat is on the river qualifying.
“The water looks nice from the shoreline,” said Shane. “But there were some weird rollers out there. I don’t know if the current is down or what. But the water is really awkward out there.”
Tate, who won the Columbia Cup last year as well as the national high-points championship, agreed on the weird water situation.
“Wonky is a good word,” said Tate. “HomeStreet is obviously running real well. But we’re all playing on the same golf course.”
J. Michael Kelly drove the U-12 Graham Trucking to the third-fastest qualifying speed, with a 155.881 mph top lap.
“It’s all right,” Kelly said. “It could’ve been faster. With the water, though, we had some sponson-to-sponson walking, which is hard on the speed.”
Altogether, nine of the 10 boats entered qualified for the weekend’s racing.
After the top three, the remaining qualifiers were:
• The U-11 Reliable Diamond Tool presents J&D Hydraulics and driver Jamie Nilsen at 154.588;
• The U-1918 Oberto Super Salami and driver Jeff Bernard at 152.021;
• The U-3 Grigg’s presents Miss Ace Hardware and driver Jimmy King at 148.079;
• The U-440 Bucket List Racing and driver Dustin Echols at 146.129;
• The U-98 Graham Trucking American Dream and driver Corey Peabody at 132.139;
• And the the U-7 Spirit of Detroit/Boitano Homes and driver Bert Henderson, who finished with the minimum of 130 mph after multiple fuel flow violations.
Only one race team failed to get out on the water for qualifying, and that was the U-99.9 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance and driver Brian Perkins.
Perkins had taken the brand-new hull out in testing on Friday morning, but coming back to the pits, the escape hatch underneath the boat opened and then was ripped off by the river water.
It was somewhere near the Lampson Pits dock, and divers were at the ready Friday evening to search for it after the race course was closed.
“The boat ran fine once we got going,” said team owner Greg O’Farrell. “It’s the just not being prepared thing. I own a paving contracting business with 100 employees and over 1,000 pieces of equipment. This boat was race-ready by Wednesday.”
But the team also ruined a gearbox in testing before the escape hatch incident occurred.
“That hatch has been off over 100 times and it fit,” said O’Farrell, who sent his son back to Seattle on a plane to get a backup that – alas, would not fit the new boat.
“I was so upset about it earlier today that I was thinking about going to get our backup boat,” said O’Farrell.
Instead, he’ll hope the divers can find it in the river Friday night.
With the first two sets of heats scheduled for Saturday, teams now get into game plan mode, trying to figure out strategy for the weekend.
“For us, it’s get back to basics again,” said Kelly. “I kind of have to find a way to the inside lane to beat the faster boats. Although in 2017 I won from the outside, so it can be done.”
For Tate, it’s forgetting about trying to repeat as national champions – especially after missing the season opener in Guntersville, Ala.
“I think we’re obviously out of the points race right now,” Tate said. “But we’re racing for wins. Here in the Tri-Cities, in Seattle and San Diego. That’s our goal.”
Oberto team looks good
Jeff Bernard drove the U-1918 Oberto Super Salami boat to a fast lap of 159-plus in the first round of the qualifying ladder on Friday.
Considering the veteran just got back into the boat last week in a test session on Lake Washington, that opened some eyes in the pits.
However, in his third lap, Bernard said the boat had a fuel-flow violation – which disqualified the whole outing.
No matter. Bernard went back out about 30 minutes later and got the boat qualified.
“The boat is perfect,” said Bernard. “We’ve been working our way up to this point.”
Lest anyone forget, the hull is the backup boat of the U-6 Miss HomeStreet Bank.
Owned by the city of Madison, Ind., and managed by Charlie Grooms, the boat and team are back in the H1 Unlimited circuit because Grooms wanted another boat in the fleet.
He approached Larry Oberto of the Seattle-based Oberto family, who agreed to come on board to sponsor the team and boat for the season’s final three races here in the Tri-Cities, next week in Seattle and in San Diego in September.
Oberto was excited.
“We’ve reunited the old Madison boat,” he said. “We’ve reunited one of the best partnerships there has been in the sport.”
This is fact. This hull, teamed with the Madison crew and either drivers Jimmy Shane or Steve David, won four consecutive national championships from 2013 to 2017.
U-3 team has a better weekend start
Ed Cooper’s piston-powered U-3 Grigg’s presents Miss Ace Hardware spent the first day of qualifying in the Tri-Cities in 2018 by hurting two engines.
On Friday, this time around, that didn’t happen.
“We ran this morning, then changed a propeller,” said Cooper. “We ran it a second time in testing. Then we changed a propeller this afternoon before qualifying and we were 4 to 5 mph faster than the second run.”
Jimmy King qualified at 148.079 mph. Then the team set the boat back on the trailer and was done for the day.
“Last year, we hurt two engines,” said Cooper. “Today was a great day. We ran one motor. At the end of the day, the engine is in great shape.”
U-11’s Nilsen gets off to great start
Jamie Nilsen got the call to drive the U-11 Reliable Diamond Tools presents J&D Hydraulics last week when team owners Scott and Shannon Raney made the decision to change drivers, letting Tom Thompson go.
Nilsen impressed the Raneys with a fourth-best qualifying speed of 154.588 mph. He also completed enough laps to become a qualified unlimited driver.
“It’s a good start,” said Scott Raney. “I told him, ‘Go learn what the boat’s about.’ We’re on a crawl, walk, run plan. We’re going to continue to make the boat better for him.”
Nilsen knows there is work ahead.
“We’ve got a big learning curve,” admitted Nilsen, who has driven an unlimited before and still drives a smaller Grand Prix West boat. “Unlimiteds are totally different animals than limiteds. It’s the difference between driving a freight train and a sports car.”
This is always subject to change, but Saturday’s schedule has Heat 1A set for 1:50 p.m., with Heat 1B at 2:15 p.m.
Heat 2A is set for 4:20 p.m., while Heat 2B is scheduled for 4:45 p.m.
There will be numerous Grand Prix West, 5 Litre, and Vintage boat races throughout the day also.
Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor of the Herald.