The fastest race boats in the world will be in action for the fans in the Tri-Cities, Washington, this weekend as the 2021 H1 Unlimited Racing Series continues with the HAPO Columbia Cup.
The boats will careen across the water at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, giving those lining the shores of the Columbia River the “Greatest Show on H-2-O.”
The event is the third on this year’s schedule. Race winners so far have included J. Michael Kelly, 42, of Bonney Lake, Washington, who drove Miss Tri-Cities to victory at the Guntersville Lake Hydrofest in Guntersville, Alabama.
Defending national champion Jimmy Shane, 35, of Covington, Washington, was the winner three weeks ago in Madison, Indiana, when he drove Goodman Real Estate presents Miss HomeStreet to his career fifth Gold Cup victory.
Shane will be in the cockpit of a different boat this weekend. His Miss Madison Racing Team will compete in the Tri-Cities with its newer hull, the Miss HomeStreet, a craft that was built in 2018 and that won the 2019 national title. Shane and the boat stand as the reigning champions because the entire 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kelly will be a fan favorite at the event. He won the most recent race held in the Tri-Cities and is now driving for a team owned by Vanessa and Darrell Strong, who live in the community and who purchased the hydroplane last winter. Though they have sponsored boats in the past, they are now in their first year as owners in the H1 Unlimited Racing Series.
The Strong Racing Team started the 2021 season in a big way, not only by winning its first race, but also by having its other boat place second and also be the fastest qualifier at the Guntersville event. That boat, Pinnacle Peak Consulting, was also purchased by the Strongs last winter and will be driven by Corey Peabody, 42, of Kent, Washington.
The current leader in the national points race for drivers is Andrew Tate, 31, of Canton, Michigan, who will be driving Graham Trucking. He was the national champion in 2018 and is now driving the boat that was runner-up in the standings in 2019 and that won that season’s last three races, including the most recent race in the Tri-Cities. Tate finished second in the APBA Gold Cup race in Madison.
Also sure to get some attention by the fans attending the event on the Columbia River will be Dave Villwock, 67, of Monroe, Washington, who will be driving Miss Beacon Plumbing. While he is among the oldest to ever drive an H1 Unlimited hydro in competition, he is also the sport’s all-time most successful competitor. With 67 career race victories, Villwock has won more races than any other driver in history, and with 10 titles, has also been the sport’s national champion more than any other driver.
The Miss Beacon Plumbing is owned by Sharon and Kelly Stocklin, who will also enter a second hydroplane named Bucket List Racing. Driven by Dustin Echols, 41, also of Monroe, the boat battled gearbox issues at the Guntersville race and sat out the Gold Cup. The team hopes to have those issues resolved by this weekend.
Another boat that has seen mechanical and structural issues so far this season has been J&D’s, which is driven by Jamie Nilsen, 36, of Gig Harbor, Washington. The boat did finish fourth in the Gold Cup but was forced to miss much of that event because of damage caused when the craft hit debris in the water while traveling at over 150 miles per hour.
Making its first appearance on the H1 Unlimited Racing Series this season will be Griggs presents Miss Ace Hardware, a boat that is based in Evansville, Indiana. Driven by Jimmy King, 60, of Memphis, Michigan, the hydroplane is the last to still use a V-12 Allison engine, a powerplant built for World War II fighter planes that was commonly used in the sport from the late-1940s until the mid-1980s.
Also providing a sound from the past for the fans in the Tri-Cities will be exhibition runs by several of the old hydroplanes from the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Washington.
Most of today’s boats on the H1 Unlimited Racing Series are about 30 feet long, weigh more than three tons, and (except for the one) are powered by Lycoming gas turbine engines.
Skimming across the water at breathtaking speed, throwing spray high into the air, the boats will achieve average lap speeds of about 150 to 160 miles per hour.
Nothing compares to the unique visual beauty of watching the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes live. Testing and qualifying is scheduled for Friday with racing action on both Saturday and Sunday that will culminate with a winner-take-all final heat on Sunday afternoon.