Alabama has long been known for its NASCAR superspeedway at Talladega, but there’s another speedway of sorts gaining recognition in the region. This weekend, six of the world’s fastest race boats will compete at the aqua oval on Lake Guntersville, Alabama, known for some of the fastest race water in the country.
The lake was ideal for setting water speed world records and races in the 1960s. Last year, city and county officials brought H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series back to the lake. The H1 Unlimited hydroplanes are built with custom parts and are powered by Lycoming T-55 turbine engines capable of reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph as they skim across the top of the water.
“We are bringing our best equipment for the chance to win the Southern Cup,” said Jimmy Shane (Maple Valley, Wash.), driver of the U-6 “Miss HomeStreet” unlimited hydroplane.
During last year’s championship final heat, Shane was in an epic race against Andrew Tate (Walled Lake, Mich.) of the Jones Racing team. The race came down to the final lap, when Tate edged out Shane by a few feet in one of the closest finishes in the sport’s 116-year-old history.
“We look forward to providing fans with the same type of exhilarating racing all weekend long,” Shane said.
Shane also would like to beat the 157.866 mph, qualifying course record established last year by Tate. “If we get good cooperation from the weather Gods this year, I feel that we can top that speed,” Shane said.
Last year’s close finish will be tough to repeat because the winner of that event, Andrew Tate, will not be racing this weekend. A scheduling conflict will keep the 2018 national champion and his Jones Racing team from competition.
In addition to Shane, among the other drivers who plan to take Tate’s place on the first-place podium is J. Michael Kelly, driver of the U-12 “Graham Trucking”. Kelly, now in his 16th year driving an H1 Unlimited hydroplane, has eight career victories. He missed the inaugural race last year and competed in only two races during the 2018 campaign.
“All the teams have stepped it up these past few years so there should be some really hard-fought battles this weekend,” Kelly said. “The U-12 “Graham Trucking” is going to fight hard to be on top.”
In addition to Shane, Kelly said he expects stiff competition from Tom Thompson, who will be driving the U-11 “J&D’s presented by Reliable Diamond Tool”.
“Both drivers always present a challenge and that’s what makes racing these guys so much fun,” Kelly said.
Thompson, 56, is the oldest driver on the circuit and would love to have his first career victory on the lake, having spent many summers in nearby Boaz, Alabama. “I’m very excited about returning to Guntersville for the first race of the season,” he said. “It’s a special place to me, and it would be even more meaningful to win my first race there.”
Thompson and the other drivers said they look forward all year to racing in Guntersville and to getting some great southern hospitality. “The southern fans of the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series are super excited and welcome us with open arms,” Thompson said. “The autograph sessions and award presentations were packed last year. We can’t wait to get back and spend time with our fans.”
Shane, who has won every race on the five-race circuit except the Southern Cup, echoed Thompson’s comments. “We’re looking forward to seeing our friends in H1 Unlimited hydros as we start the new season and, of course, meeting many new fans this weekend.”
Bert Henderson (Brockville, Ontario), driver of the U-7 “Spirit of Detroit” is the only Canadian driver entered into the race and this will be his first H1 Unlimited hydroplane race other than racing on the Detroit River.
“I am glad that we are finally going to race outside of Michigan,” Henderson said. “I am super pumped! We made lots of off-season changes, acquired some new equipment and we have high expectations for this year,” he said.
Two dark horses in the field include rookie Corey Peabody (Kent, Wash.) driving the U-98 “Graham Trucking American Dream” and Dustin Echols (Monroe, Wash.) in the U-440 “Bucket List Racing”.
Echols team saw their race boat highest speeds during last month’s preseason test session in Washington State. He is happy to start the season on a 2 1/2-mile racecourse.
“Guntersville is the perfect place for our boat. It likes long racecourses and it is a super-fast racecourse with great water conditions,” Echols said. “We will show the fans that our offseason hard work is paying off.”
Peabody, whose team was a last-minute entry said, “this is a fantastic opportunity for us to race with such great competition.” He continued, “I keep hearing how great the fans in the South are and our team is looking forward to experiencing the HydroFest weekend and create new fans.”
The six H1 Unlimited hydroplane race boats begin testing on Friday at 9 am (CDT) with qualifying beginning at 4:00 pm (CDT). Preliminary heat racing take place on Saturday and will continue through Sunday with the Southern Cup final beginning at 4:50 pm (CDT).