SEATTLE — There was a technology-meets-tradition kind of vibe in the air during Tuesday’s Albert Lee Appliance Cup Seafair news conference at the Museum of Flight, kicking off a highly-anticipated weekend of racing.
Hydroplane drivers and owners spoke of their intentions for the 63rd annual race and 85-year-old Oh Boy! Oberto chairman Art Oberto was knighted next to a full scale mock-up space shuttle — one that he outdates by more than 40 years.
“I think this was the first time there was a knighting next to a spaceship,” museum public-relations manager Ted Huetter said.
However, the return of the annual event will need more than a memorable opening act to match the quality that hydroplane enthusiasts witnessed last weekend in the Tri-Cities, where overall points leader Steve David, in the Oh Boy! Oberto boat, outdid Graham Trucking’s Jimmy Shane to claim the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.
A win Sunday would tie David with legendary Bill Muncey as the only drivers to win this event four consecutive times.
“That would certainly be an exclamation point in my unlimited career, tying the late Bill Muncey,” he said.
At the 48th annual event, the Columbia River’s unforgiving waters made short work of two unlimited boats. Those boats, driven by J. Michael Kelly of the Beacon Plumbing team and replacement driver Kelly Stocklin of the 100 Central Coast Airbrush, blew over at different points of the race.
Jane Schumacher, co-owner of the Beacon Plumbing U-37 with husband and racing legend Billy Schumacher, expects the boat to do more than make an appearance this weekend.
“The boys are busy in the shop, we’ll be at Seafair and we are in it to win it,” Jane Schumacher said.
The U-100 wasn’t as fortunate and the Leland Unlimited boat was totaled as a result of a mishap that saw it spiral 85 feet into the air before landing.
Stacey Bisreno’s team will undergo more turnover this weekend and in her absence, H1 Unlimited’s Steve Montgomery announced that Leland Unlimited is expected to bring a new driver and a new boat to the Seafair competition.
The 12, possibly 13-boat roster might include the U-96 Spirit of Qatar, owned by Erick Ellstrom. The boat, which runs under four computer systems, is undergoing maintenance and Ellstrom has yet to determine whether it will be race-ready.
The U-96 boat has won the High Point National Championship three times in the past eight years and last claimed the top hydroplane racing prize in 2011.
“I said maybe you could run just once with like one computer system and be like everybody else,” Montgomery said of his most recent conversation with Ellstrom.
Heats begin Friday with the final Sunday afternoon.