In 2014, J. Michael Kelly and Ted Porter saw their U-1 Graham Trucking team win four of the six races on the H1 Unlimited circuit.
Yet the team failed to win the national high-points title. That went to the U-6 Oberto and Jimmy Shane, who won the other two races on the schedule.
Kelly and Porter can look back on the season and pinpoint where the championship was lost: the Tri-Cities.
The Graham boat suffered a crack in one of the sponsons early in the weekend, and Porter, the team’s owner, knew he had to shut things down so the boat would be ready for Seafair the following week.
Kelly, the driver, and the rest of the Graham team watched from Lampson Pits as Shane and the Oberto won the 2014 Columbia Cup and grabbed 1,200 points. The Graham boat tied for sixth and garnered just 607 points. Despite a late-season rally, that gap was just too much to overcome for the title.
“We did a lot of sitting on the trailer last year,” Porter said. “It was just one of those unfortunate things. We had some issues catch up with us. The majority of weekends, we had the high points. But whether you win or not, it’s about consistency.”
It pointed out that in a short six-race season, the smallest mistakes can be magnified.
Now, throw in the fact that the Madison Regatta was a no-points race thanks to debris in the Ohio River, and there are just four races in the 2015 season to score points: Tri-Cities this weekend; Seattle from July 31-Aug. 2; Detroit from Aug. 22-23; and San Diego from Sept. 18-20.
“There is really no room for errors at all,” Kelly said. “You can’t afford to miss any heats with the heats we do run.”
“We talked about it before the season started,” he said. “We want to start and finish every heat. Be consistent. The first year we won the national high-points championship, in 2006, we won just one race. At the same time, we’re looking for consistency. Last season, we spent too much time in the pits.”
Kelly drove the U-5 Graham, which lost the U-1 designation after last season when Oberto was crowned champion, to victory July 5 in the non-points Madison race, where a match-race format was used.
“In Madison, I was really happy at how the boat performed,” Kelly said.
That’s fine. But now, everything counts, starting with the Gold Cup on the 21/2-mile Columbia River course.
“We geared up pretty good for Tri-Cities,” Kelly said. “Last year, the two heats we ran, we laid down some pretty good laps. I think we ran a competitive lap of over 160 (mph). This is like a big speedway, and we’re gonna hit higher speeds.
“I love this boat, and the handling. I don’t think I could ask for a better boat ride.”
Porter likes this river, too.
“I think it does help us,” Porter said. “We can stretch out a bit, run some taller gears we can’t because of the tight turns in Madison and Seattle. Our boats like to run on bigger courses, no doubt. And Tri-Cities is nice. It’s clean, fresh water, and you can run fast as long as there is no wild breeze.”
Winning the Gold Cup would be a great start to the short 2015 season for Porter and his team.
“That’s one we’ve never won,” Porter said. “We came so close last year when we jumped the score-up buoy. The year before, we were very close, too.
“Throughout the weekend, I’m gonna try to keep our guys calmed down,” Porter continued. “I want to bring home the Gold Cup for sure. This year, we’re prepared. I think we’ve got it right.”