Kennewick – There were high expectations by H1 Unlimited drivers that someone would set qualifying speed records at the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup on Friday.
But the only thing that turned out high was the water level on the Columbia River, which in turn wreaked havoc on the 13-boat fleet. The high water stems from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently releasing a lot of water from Priest Rapids Dam upriver.
“The rollers from the skid fins normally go to the inside of the course,” said U-1 Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock. “But the current is so fast it’s bringing them back out into the turn.”
In turn, it’s beating up the boats and slowing down the speeds, said U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David.
“You’re getting large, standing swells from the apex to the exit in turns 1 and 2,” said David. “You come in real fast, then hit this big stuff and it just bends you out of shape, and it brings speeds down about 6 mph from last year.”
Even with a rough course, the usual favorites were at the top of the qualifying ladder. Villwock and Qatar took the 100 points for fastest speed at 159.645 mph, while David and Oberto were second at 158.155.
Scott Liddycoat in the 88 Degree Men was third at 154.342, while Jimmy Shane in the U-5 Graham Trucking was fourth at 153.152.
Both young drivers were surprised at how the river was handling.
“It’s amazing how that first turn just holds its wakes,” said Shane.
Shane was also amazed at how fast his speeds were with the current, and how much slower the boat was going upriver.
So was Liddycoat.
“It’s like you’re hitting bricks going upriver,” Liddycoat said.
Keep in mind, this is the qualifying round, with just one boat out on the course.
What happens when there are four boats in a heat race, like today? Or Sunday’s final, when seven boats should be on the water at the same time?
“I’ve been told the river is six feet higher than normal,” said Erick Ellstrom, crew chief and owner of the Qatar. “And the current is two or three times as fast. Just don’t be in the back of the field.”
“It’s going to be rough heading into that first turn,” said Villwock.
“They’re will be a bunch of roostertails for drivers to go through to get to those inside lanes.”
Everyone will get their answers today, when the boats will compete in three heat races.
In Heat 1A, set for 2:45 p.m., will be the Qatar, 88 Degree Men, U-99 Leland Unlimited II and driver Ryan Mallow, U-57 Formulaboats.com/Tire Factory and Mark Evans, and the U-18 Bucket List Racing and driver Kelly Stocklin — if Stockling can get the boat running.
In Heat 1B, set for 3:10 p.m., the lineup is Oberto, the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing and driver J. Michael Kelly, U-11 Miss Peters & May and driver JW Myers, and U-9 Les Schwab presents Sound Propeller Services and Jon Zimmerman.
In Heat 1C at 3:35 p.m., it’s Graham Trucking, the U-17 Miss Red Dot and Nate Brown, the U-21 Miss HAPO and Brian Perkins, and the U-100 Leland Unlimited and Greg Hopp.
Meanwhile, there were other problems on the river.
Villwock had problems with an errant dog during his first qualifying run.
“I saw a Golden Retriever from the infield swimming out,” said Villwock, who shut his boat down. “He was probably chasing some birds.”
Kip Brown, driver of the U-17 Miss Red Dot, broke the bottom of his left tibia, when the steering failed and he hooked the boat on a test run.