The world’s fastest race boats, the H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes, make their only 2014 appearance in Eastern Washington this weekend as the 49th annual Columbia Cup gets underway in Kennewick on Friday.
With last week’s announcement that the Diamond Cup, which was to have been held on Lake Coeur d’Alene, had been canceled for this year, the Columbia Cup takes on more importance as the H1 series is now down to a six-race season.
Points toward the driver’s championship are already tight as Jimmy Shane, the series reigning titleholder, is locked in battle for this year’s crown with J. Michael Kelly. The twist to this year’s title chase has Kelly driving Shane’s former boat and reigning championship hull, the U-1 Graham Trucking, while Shane is behind the wheel of the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto machine.
The change came about when Oberto’s driver for many years, Steven David, announced his retirement at the end of last season. Owned by the city of Madison, Indiana, the team tapped Shane and his championship experience to lead its charge in 2014.
Kelly, one of the series’ most respected drivers, has two victories in the H1 series. Picking up a win in the season opener, Kelly has shown to be a contender for the championship as his team finished second to Shane’s in the most recent event, the Detroit Gold Cup.
The Columbia Cup is expected to draw 13 entries to this weekend’s race vying for seven spots in the Sunday afternoon finale. Two teams looking to be part of this year’s Tri-Cites race, the U-9 Red Dot and the U-11 Peters and May, are coming off rough outings in Detroit.
Crew members have worked nearly non-stop over the last 10 days to repair the U-9 after it flipped with Jon Zimmerman at the wheel. Zimmerman escaped injury but his boat was severely damaged, forcing its withdrawal from the Detroit event’s final two qualifying heats along with the main event. With repairs made, the U-9 is expected to take to the water Friday in an effort to dial in for a qualifying run that could get it into the weekend’s race.
U-11 owner Scott Raney and his crew have battled engine problems that forced them out of the Gold Cup. Like the U-9 team, Raney’s crew has been working at a fevered pace to get their engine program back together with the Columbia Cup on the horizon.
Last season the U-11 claimed a top-five finish in the Columbia Cup.
“We had a good boat in Tri-Cites last year,” Raney said. “It’s been a lot of work to get ready for this race, what with our motor issues back in Detroit, but we’re after it and will be ready to go when they let boats on the water for Friday testing. The Columbia Cup is an awesome race and we’re going to do everything we can to get (driver) Tom (Thompson) into the final.”
Stateline racing returns
Stateline Speedway returns to action after taking a week off to re-energize itself after a successful appearance by the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Running on Friday and Saturday nights, many of the quarter-mile divisions will be on track.
Friday’s lineup features the Northwest Modifieds, the Scaled Late Models, Street Sportsman and Drifting. That’s followed by a Saturday schedule of Late Models, a regional qualifying event for INEX Legend cars, Bandoleros and Hobby Stocks.
Gerald Nash, Ressen Tarr and Aaron Nevers are locked in a tight race for the Hobby Stock championship as the weekend gets underway. Nash has a three-point spread over Tarr, with Nevers only 13 points behind Nash for the top spot.
Winners in the INEX Legends regional qualifier can secure a spot in this year’s national event.
Bandolero drivers continue to chase Alex Bartlett, who is coming off a June 21 main event victory that added points to his division-leading total. His closest pursuer, Hayden Plybon, trails by 15 points heading into the weekend.
Late model points leader Justin Popple will be out to tame rookie Corey McGuire in their division. McGuire and Popple put up a photo finish on July 12, with the rookie scoring the main event. Popple leads McGuire by 18 points with three races left in their season.