Hydro Racing

Hopp happy to be back on top

After losing out on a fifth straight Unlimited Lights team title by crashing in the final event of 2007, Greg Hopp and his crew decided this season to live up to the name of their UL-15 Graham Racing GT Happy Go Lucky ride.

No more pressure to win, they said. Let's just go out and have fun.

Boy, did they have fun this weekend.

Hopp continued to make the Tri-Cities his home-away-from-home with his fourth win on the Columbia River in three years, cruising to victory in the Graham Trucking Thunder Cup on Sunday at the Columbia Cup.

"It ran like a Swiss watch all weekend long," said Hopp, who turned a record lap of 124.118 mph Friday, won two heat races and picked up a whopping 1,240 points on the weekend.

He had a terrific duel with Paul Becker and his UL-14 Miss Critical Logic.

"Both of us nailed it," Becker said of the start, which saw the two boats bolt out well in front of the seven-boat field.

With Hopp to the outside, Becker held a close lead through the first lap, but he couldn't hold off the more powerful boat much longer.

"More horse power," Becker said, adding that with more torque, Hopp powered through the turns.

"We were pretty much dead-even coming down the straightaway.

"I don't know how fast I was going - my speedometer went around twice and flew off," he joked.

Hopp averaged a blazing 107.779 mph, with Becker close behind at 104.736.

The race for third was just as tight, and it featured two boats that qualified through the B Main.

Terry Troxell recovered from a bad start in his UL-8 Numerica Credit Union and finished just ahead of the UL-11 Roxy 94.5 Radio/Power Punch Oil Supplements boat driven by Michael Flaherty, who started the race as an alternate.

Both drivers were part of a four-boat mis-start in the B Main that cost each driver a minute.

"I think a lot of people jumped because I jumped," Troxell said.

Despite the penalty, Troxell still took third in the B Main to qualify for the Thunder Cup, and Flaherty's fourth place garnered alternate status.

When Joe Souza's UL-39 Rouly Heat Exchange presents Napa Auto Parts boat stalled pulling away from the docks and couldn't restart, Flaherty was in the race.

Like Troxell, he got off to a slow start in the Cup race - "I'll be a little late," he said after jumping the gun in the B Main. But he recovered and posted a nice showing in the team's first main event ever.

"This is our first final and we took fourth place out of it," Flaherty said. "We're all happy about that."

Adding to the relief was a long previous day - the crew stayed up until 2 a.m. gluing pieces to the bottom of the boat, one of the few wooden hulls on the circuit.

J. Craig Fletcher finished a disappointing sixth in his UL-13 Celtic Racing boat after a strong weekend. He qualified the second fastest and finished first and second in heat races.

But after having his starts down pat, Fletcher made a misstep in the main event and hit the score-up line one second early prior to the race, picking up a one-minute penalty that took him out of the running before the race even began.

The big weekend helped the UL-15 boat open a sizable cushion in the points lead. Ahead by just 18 points three days ago, Hopp and Co. now have a 1,073-point edge.

Becker, who earned 1,000 points, closed from 769 points to within 17 points of second place. Kayleigh Perkins' UL-72 Miss Boat Electric, which was in first place two weeks ago, was beached by a broken valve for a second straight week.

Team co-owner Phil Bononcini said he thinks the other motor will be ready for Seafair in Seattle next weekend.

But it's been smooth sailing for Hopp.

"It's a relief not to be the target," said Hopp, whose four-year run was ended by Perkins and the UL-72 boat last year. "We just decided to have fun this year."

So far, it's working.

◗ Kevin Anthony: 582-1403; kanthony@tricityherald.com

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