Special to the Courier

Jimmy Shane and Andrew Tate have dominated the 2018 H1 Unlimited season thus far with the two drivers splitting the first two races.

The third round of their heavyweight dual will be held this weekend in the Tri-Cities, Washington, but unlike the first two, there will be much more competition on the water.

The H1 series swings into eastern Washington this weekend for the latest edition of the Columbia Cup on the Columbia River. A total of nine teams are expected to be in the Neil Lamson pits, and while that is not a lot of boats by Tri-Cities standards, it will be by far the largest field the sport has seen this season.

Only six boats ran competition laps in the season opener in Guntersville, Alabama in June and there were just five at Madison earlier this month, the fewest the city has seen since 1958. With such small fields, Shane and Tate had their way with the competition.

But the added faces will also bring added competition and coming home with the big trophy this weekend will not be as easy.

“We’re looking forward to racing against a larger field for the west coast races, and gaining some unpredictability with preliminary heat draws,” said Tate, driver of the U-9 Les Schwab Tires.

Tate enters the weekend with a 440-point lead over Shane and the U-1 Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison. In eight heats of racing this season, Tate has been nearly perfect with six wins and two second-place finishes. He has also been the fastest-qualifier twice.

But Shane is right on his heels and could have some reinforcements this weekend in the form of a new boat. The seventh Miss Madison, which coincidentally started life as the seventh turbine Miss Budweiser, is set to make its debut in the Tri-Cities and while there are no plans to race it in competition, Shane is still excited to get the boat wet.

“The Miss HomeStreet team will be in full-throttle mode with the debut of our new 2018 hull along with running the current hull,” Shane said. “The plan is to test and qualify both boats and determine which one will make the cut when preliminary heat racing begins on Saturday afternoon. This will be the first time I have a chance to run a H1 Unlimited Hydroplane out of the box and truly cannot wait.”

Tom Thompson’s U-11 J&Ds and Dustin Echols’ U-440 Bucket List Racing sit three and four in the high points standings. They represent the only other teams to run competition laps at both races thus far this season.

“Our crew chief, Taylor Evans, is the youngest crew chief out of all these guys. He and my owners have been busting their butts fixing and making the U-440 Bucket List Racing faster throughout the season. I guess its good that he is young because he is a work horse,” said Echols, who drove the team to its first-ever preliminary heat win at Madison. “In June we had a preseason test on the two and a half mile race course in Tri-City (Wash.) and believe we have just the boat set-up the predicted hot weather conditions.”

Aaron Salmon and the U-99.9 Miss Rock have appeared at both races so far but have been beset by mechanical difficulties and have accumulated only 225 points thus far. Brian Perkins and the U-21 PayneWest Insurance, and Cal Phipps and the U-1918 Oberto, both appeared at the season opener in Guntersville.

Phipps’ ride, the former U-27 Wiggins Racing entry, will be sponsored by the Oberto family both this weekend and next weekend in Seattle and sports a slick new paint job. The unique number represents the year that the Oberto company was founded and pays homage to its 100-year anniversary.

Two other teams will be making their season debuts this weekend. Jimmy King will be driving the U-3 Grigg’s Ace Hardware while J. Michael Kelly will be back in the U-12 Graham Trucking to defend his Columbia Cup title from a year ago.

“It has been a long off-season, and myself and my crew are having a hard containing ourselves. We are more than ready to join the fleet and can’t wait for the Water Follies weekend,” Kelly said. “I look forward to defending the Columbia Cup in front of all those amazing fans on the banks of the river. It’s going to be a scorcher on river banks and on the race course.”

Testing for this weekend’s race will begin at 11 a.m. EDT this morning with qualifying set for a noon start. The first of four preliminary heats will be on at 1:20 p.m. on Saturday with the final heat scheduled for 7:20 p.m. on Sunday.