Eight H1 Unlimited hydroplane boats are expected to compete on the “fastest race water in the South” this weekend as the series returns to Guntersville Lake in Guntersville, Ala., for the first time since 1969. The teams qualify on the 2 1/2-mile Southern Cup race course today and race on Saturday and Sunday.
The H1 Unlimited drivers are expected to put on a good show in the season opener in Alabama. Photo by Robert F. Peters
In the 1960s, the hydroplanes were known to post record-setting speeds on Guntersville Lake. While those records have fallen thanks to advanced racing technologies, today’s drivers are looking forward to possibilities of setting new world records in Alabama.
Last year during an exhibition run on Guntersville Lake, Jimmy Shane of Maple Valley, Wash., drove the U-1 Miss HomeStreet, looked at his speedometer and raised his eyebrows. When he got back to the pits, he just grinned.
“I can tell you, just from the area that we tested, we were running fast—like 196 mph on the lake,” Shane said. “It was fast!”
The world record for the fastest qualifying lap on a 2 1/2-mile course is 164.759 mph held by Dave Villwock on San Diego’s Mission Bay in 2011.
“Last year I was fortunate to test here and there must have been 5,000 people just for the exhibition,” Shane said. “I can’t wait for our fans in the Southern region of the country to see Miss HomeStreet and numerous other H1 Unlimited hydroplanes all racing together, deck-to-deck.”
Drivers such as Andrew Tate of Walled Lake, Mich., who finished second in the national high points race with the U-9 Delta/Realtrac, like the idea of a new course where none of the current drivers have competed.
“I’m really excited—this is my third year driving an H1 Unlimited hydroplane,” Tate said. “A new course makes for an even playing field. The other drivers don’t have notes on the course either.”
Local team owner Charley Wiggins, who owns the U-27 Greater Gadsden presents Chase Building Group hydroplane, knows the water perhaps better than anyone on the H1 Unlimited hydroplane circuit and said the lake could be a double-edged sword.
“The Guntersville course, being on a much wider body of water than the Tri-City (Wash.) and San Diego 2 1/2-mile courses, should provide either a smoother course or it could produce a much rougher course if the winds come from the west-southwest directions,” Wiggins said. “Having duck hunted on various parts of Guntersville Lake for many years, wind direction can take a smooth mill pond lake and create treacherous white caps for a 16-foot flat bottom boat. So if the winds are down, it will be smooth like San Diego.”
In other words, teams better be prepared for anything on a course they don’t know much about, Wiggins warned.
The U-27 Greater Gadsden presents Chase Building Group is considered the hometown race boat, based in nearby Rainbow City, Ala. Their driver Cal Phipps of Avon Lake, Ohio, said he cannot wait to get back to racing.
“When we take the checkered flag on Sunday fans are going to hear one of the best renditions of the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ they have ever heard,” a confident Phipps said.
In addition to Phipps, expect a battle to be waged by top contenders Shane and Tate.
Tate, with Jeff and Mike Campbell leading his crew, is especially excited for the new season.
“At Jones Racing, with the wisdom of the Campbell brothers and the boat setup, we have it down pretty well,” Tate said. “I couldn’t be happier with the boat.”
Shane expects more teams to be in the title hunt this season.
“There are as many as five boats that could win the national championship,” he said. “The U-11 (Reliable Diamond Tool presents J&D’s) is going to be faster this year, and (U-7 Spirit of Detroit driver) Bert Henderson is going to be a player this year.”
Guntersville has a long history of boat racing and there are many people still living there who remember when the Unlimited hydroplanes ran in the 1960s and when Roy Duby set the one-mile world straight-away speed record of 200.419 mph in 1962 driving the Miss US 1.