The usual suspects went about their business Saturday during the first two sets of heat races at the HAPO Columbia Cup.
Jimmy Shane, driving the U-6 Miss HomeStreet Bank, and Andrew Tate in the U-1 Delta/RealTrac both won their heat races to lead the field with 800 points each.
Neither driver had a hassle, as they stayed out in front of the field each time.
“It was a good day for Miss HomeStreet,” said Shane, who was also top qualifier on Friday for another 100 points. “We had a water line break off the shaft after the first heat. There was water everywhere in the boat. But the team replaced it in 30 minutes and we were ready to go for the second heat. That’s a job that takes two hours, normally.”
Shane said the key was staying in front of the field in smooth water. That’s not usually a problem for him.
But on Friday, during the made-for-television Dash for Cash exhibition, he said he got a reminder of what it’s like to trail the field when he was late getting out onto the course.
“I got a wake-up call in that Dash for Cash,” Shane said. “That was my first time behind some boats in a long time. You forget how rough the water is behind them. It was good for my mindset.”
The scary part is that Shane had the fastest average speed in both heats, and he thinks he can get more out of the boat.
“There’s still more,” he said. “There is always more to get out of it. We’re still learning, and it’s only going to get better.”
At this time last year, the Miss Madison team unveiled its new version of the Miss HomeStreet. And by the time last year’s race ended, Shane said, in the team’s mind, the 2019 season started the next day.
“At that point we decided we have the new boat,” Shane said. “Let’s go learn about it. Time to get ready for 2019.”
Meanwhile, Tate and the U-1 team also stayed ahead of the field, rolling to victories in heats 1B and 2B.
“I tell ya, 800 points on a Saturday is a good way to start out the weekend,” said Tate.
“This is the only unlimited I have ever driven. But my confidence level in this boat is 100 percent.”
As for not getting a shot at Shane, Tate said “It’s going to happen sooner or later. It’s a matter of time.”
Well it will happen first thing Sunday. The two boats were drawn into heat 3A, which is scheduled to run at 10:30 a.m.
Tate has a lot of respect for Shane and his team.
“They are the national high-points leader,” said Tate. “I know we won the title last year. But that was last year. What have you done for me lately?”
Meanwhile, the next tier of teams right behind Tate and Shane are the U-3 Grigg’s presents Miss Ace Hardware with driver Jimmy King and the U-12 Graham Trucking with driver J. Michael Kelly.
Both drivers raced to second-place finishes, and they each have 600 points going into Sunday’s races.
King drove the piston-powered U-3 extremely well. He stayed right with Tate, riding his hip around the course.
“It’s been a long time since this boat ran this well,” said King. “The guys went to work inside the motors. They put in some new Pistons. That’s all they’ll tell me. They told me I need to stay on my end of the boat, in the cockpit.”
Kelly also did a good job trying to stick with Shane in both heat races.
“I’m really happy about the day and how it went,” said Kelly. “You’ve got to try to stay with them, because you never know if they might have a bad hop. We needed to try something, so we got the inside lane. I’m happy. We pushed the HomeStreet.”
Now, the teams come into Sunday thinking about strategy and setups.
“We have some decisions to make,” said Shane. “Right now, I don’t feel we have the best boat setup. What we have right now (after the first two heat races) won’t work tomorrow.”
Tate says he has some homework to do too.
“I’m interested in what the data says, and what the on-board video shows,” he said. “I was, and continue to be, a YouTube watcher of old hydro videos. I can learn a lot watching old videos of my dad (Mark Tate) and of Chip (Hanauer).”
Kelly believes everyone is in the same boat, so to speak.
“The weather should be fine,” said Kelly. “Everybody will be in the same situation. And everybody will make their stuff faster for Sunday.”
Shane drove the U-6 to victory from start to finish.
Shane hit the first turn ahead of the pack from lane 3, and he came out of the turn first.
Kelly in the U-12, starting in lane 2, stayed with Shane the entire four laps. But he could never get closer than 1 ½ rooster tails, and he finished second.
Bert Henderson in the U-7 Spirit of Detroit/Boitano Homes, starting in lane 1, hung on for third; Dustin Echols drove the U-440 Bucket List Racing to a fourth-place finish.
Jamie Nilsen, driving the U-11 J&D’s presented by Reliable Diamond Tool, lost his engine power before the end of the second lap and did not finish.
Tate, driving the U-1, beat everyone to the first turn from lane 2, and was out with the lead.
He was never threatened the rest of the way for the heat win.
King tried to catch him, though, driving the piston-powered U-3 to a second-place finish and the 300 points that comes with it.
King had raced around the course pretty hard in the milling period, and he had to cut across the course from the Franklin County side to Benton County. But by the time the race started, he had hit the line full speed in lane 3.
Jeff Bernard, driving the U-1918 Oberto Super Salami, finished third.
Brian Perkins, whose U-99.9 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance team found an escape hatch that it was able to fit after losing the original in the river on Friday, placed fourth.
Corey Peabody in the U-98 Graham Trucking American Dream finished fifth.
Shane drove the U-6 to an easy win, getting in and out of the first turn from lane 3.
Kelly rode his roostertail to drive the U-12 to second, and Bernard hung on in the U-1918 for third.
Perkins got a fourth-place finish in the U-99.9, while Peabody finished fifth in the U-98.
Tate easily won this one, reaching the first turn first from lane 1.
King followed close behind in the U-3 to place second, while Bert Henderson got a third in the U-7. Henderson got swamped in the first turn, losing speed, but he rallied from fifth to get third.
Nilsen grabbed fourth in the U-11, while Echols was fifth in the U-440.
• The heat draw for 3A is as follows, set for 10:30 a.m.: 1, 6, 7, 11 and 99. Heat 3B at 10:55 is 3, 12, 98, 440, 1918.
The rest of the tentative H1 schedule is as follows: Heat 4A, 2:25 p.m.; Heat 4B, 2:50 p.m.; Columbia Cup final, 4:30 p.m.
• Points from qualifying and the first two heat races (unofficial): U-6 900, U-1 890, U-12 680, U-3 650, U-1918 510, U-7 450, U-99.9 338, U-440 336, U-98 284, U-11 239.
• The U-99.9 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance team did get out on the water, although they never found the original escape hatch, which was lost in front of the Lampson Pits docks on Friday.
Divers could never find the hatch on Friday night. But the team sent Brian O’Farrell back to Seattle to find a replacement hatch. He even had keys to several of the opposing teams’ shops. Nothing worked. It wasn’t until Mitch and Mark Evans suggested they take the hatch from the U-16 E-Lam boat sitting in Chelan that things worked.
Team members were able to make the hatch fit, and the boat was able to run both heats on Saturday.
• The Grand Prix West boats had two heats on Saturday, but what everyone will remember is Greg Hopp going swimming in the middle of the second heat.
Hopp was driving the GP-12 Schellhase Racing/Miss DiJulio in the second heat race, when a methanol leak occurred in the engine.
“There was a heat emission, and it burned through and sprayed oil everywhere,” Hopp said.
That started the engine fire.
Hopp wasn’t aware of it, but he did lose power. He was trying to get inside the course, when he noticed the rescue sleds were high-tailing it for him.
“That doesn’t normally happen in the middle of the race,” Hopp said. “Then I looked in the mirror and saw the fire.”
It got hot fast, and Hopp got out and dived into the river.
“It’s fixable, but not here,” said Hopp.
Jerry Hopp’s GP-15, driven by Brent Hall, and the GP-55 Atomic Screen Printing presents Cabo Marine – owned by Susie and Scott Pierce, and Larry Garcia (and driven by Nilsen) – each won heat races.
• Steve Huff, owner and driver of the E-98 Steve Huff Motorsports The Flood Guys Pro-Lite e350 Hydroplane, won both 5-Liter Class races on Saturday.
Travis Johnston, driver of the E-20 JJW Racing/Miss Silver Cloud Inn, flipped his boat during the first heat race Saturday.
Johnston was taken to the hospital for precautionary purposes, but was treated and released.
Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor of the Herald.