The U-6 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison testing Friday on the Columbia River. (H1 Unlimited photo by Bill Osborne)
The U-6 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison testing Friday on the Columbia River. (H1 Unlimited photo by Bill Osborne)
The Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison Race Team took its first step toward reclaiming its championship status with an impressive opening day test session on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities, Washington, on Friday.

Jimmy Shane took the blue and white U-6 out for a total of 21 laps, almost half what the other five boats in attendance attempted combined. Shane’s fastest lap was 164.775 mph, which would have beat out his top qualifying spot on the same course a year ago.

“Amazing accomplishments today, three engine changes, two skid fin changes, two rudder changes, two canard changes and three propeller changes, all tested in a day,” Shane said. “So thankful to be a part of a dedicated team.

The heavy test schedule was the plan, according to Miss Madison President Charlie Grooms. Having watched its four-year championship streak snapped last season, the team was itching to get back on the water.

“We had a really aggressive agenda (for the day) and somehow we pulled it off,” said Grooms during an interview on Sunday. “I couldn’t be happier with the way it ran, the way things happened and what we learned. It was all we hoped for.”

The Tri-Cities test session has grown in scope over the past several years. Once an event in which just three or four Unlimiteds showed up for a few hours, this year’s event saw six Unlimiteds hit the water as well as three vintage Unlimiteds and a Grand Prix World automotive-class entry, all while being live-streamed on the internet.

Grooms, who serves on the H1 Board of Directors as well as serving as president of Miss Madison Inc., was thrilled with the turnout not only from the teams, but fans as well.

“They’ve kind of evolved the thing into, not a made-for-TV event certainly, but a made-for-Tri-Cities event,” Grooms said. “It’s on a Friday and they had a wonderful crowd and number of vendors there this year. It was very well attended and the people were happy to see us and we were happy to be there. The accommodations were lovely and the fans got a chance to get up real close and personal and that’s a big part I think of what makes it a success.”

Success was something that was lacking for the HomeStreet team a year ago. The group won only one race — its hometown event in Madison — while Andrew Tate blitzed to the title with wins in five of the six races driving the Delta/Realtrac.

While Tate had a terrific year and his past two years are among the best in the sport’s history, the HomeStreet team couldn’t help but feel that it left some wins on the water. Between disqualifications and engines woes, the team gave up five heats during the season including one final heat.

Part of the reason for the team’s problems was that it was still trying to recover from the loss of crew chief Dan Hoover, who died during the offseason. The team was unable to find its footing all season.

First-year crew chief Cindy Shirley resigned during the offseason citing “expanding professional responsibilities” with her job as director of the Office of Research for the University of Washington Bothell.

Grooms hated to see Shirley, a veteran team member, leave and was hoping that she had a chance to oversee the newest Miss Madison, which made its debut at the mid-season point of last year.

“Cindy is a phenomenal person and we love her dearly and she deserved the opportunity and I wanted to give her the opportunity to work with the new boat all dialed in,” Grooms said. “She would have gotten the accolades and the success that she so richly deserves. I don’t like that result on her resume so I would love for her (to be back), but I understand her professional responsibility.”

As for who will take Shirley’s spot, that question is yet to be answered. Mike Hanson, who held the crew chief spot with Miss Madison Racing from 2004 through 2013, is officially back with the team while brother Larry Hanson, who was the team’s crew chief from 2014-15, has been helping all winter.

But Grooms said that the team hasn’t been worried about titles and has spent the winter just trying to get the team’s two boats ready for the season.

“I have four crew chiefs on the crew right now. There’s Mike and Larry, there’s myself and there is Mark Hooton, who was a crew chief with Ted Porter,” Grooms said. “We really haven’t worried too much about it. Mike is, for certain, calling the shots as the team leader, but we just haven’t gotten into the title piece as of yet. We just have an aggressive agenda and have been laser-focused, we just haven’t been too worried about that part of it. We all know our role, we just haven’t put titles to it yet.”

Complicating the matter is the fact that the team is committed to running both of its boats this season. The 2007-vintage hull, which has 22 wins and eight national championships to its credit, has been in dry dock since the team debuted its new hull at Seattle a year ago.

Grooms said that he has been talks with a sponsor for the second boat, but at the moment, they have not progressed further than that.

“We are in contract negotiations with a sponsor right now. Once we get the legal part done, then we’ll start the implementation of changing the way the book looks, changing the colors, getting a driver, a crew chief and a team,” Grooms said. “One of the biggest pieces will be the driver. I have learned with the sponsors that we have had in the past that the driver they want to convey their image is a big part of the decision-making process. We’re trying to get ourselves legal and then we’ll deal with the driver piece and then everything else just falls into place. Other than paint job, the boat is days from being able to run in a race.”

As for whether the new sponsorship deal will be for only a few races or the full season, Grooms couldn’t say, but he said a full season was a possibility.

“It could morph into a full season, I just don’t know yet,” Grooms said. “It just depends on a number of things, not the least of which is that it is still in Seattle. I’d love nothing more than to try to do something to support the Madison Regatta as well as Guntersville. We’re making a concerted effort to do that, but there are still a lot of pieces to put together in a very little time but that’s how these things go.”