Detroit – Jimmy King felt right at home Saturday, making his return in the piston-powered boat on the Detroit River during the Spirit of Detroit Hydrofest.
King, who made his last start in Unlimited Hydroplane competition in Detroit in the 2010 Gold Cup, jumped in the fan-favorite, ultra-loud Home Street Bank U-3, the lone piston-powered boat in the 12-boat field.
"Mr. Cooper and the organization came into an agreement that both parties could live with and we're back racing again," said King of his U-3 owner, Ed Cooper, who agreed to return to the H1 Unlimited series after talks with the organization's new director, Steve David, a former driver. "As long as that boat comes I'll be there too."
It was tough for King, 53 and a 1980 graduate of New Baltimore Anchor Bay, to miss competing in the Gold Cup the past several years.
"I just made sure I was somewhere else that weekend because if I didn't have a race boat I don't come down here," said King, who made his first trip to watch the Gold Cup on the Detroit River in 1970 when his father, Bob, took him to the event. "As much as I love this event, not being able to play in it, it just doesn't work for me."
King feels he has a legitimate shot to win in Sunday's final.
"We came to win and if everything works the way it's supposed to we have a chance," King said. "The motor was running rough when we went out this morning (for testing), but the second time out it ran really well."
King qualified at 154.755 mph around the 2.7-mile course – seventh fastest – in the afternoon with his 3,000-horsepower boat.
"I feel 154 is respectable on the river and we're pretty happy with it since it's not banging, it's pulling real good, and the boat ride seems real nice," said King, who owns King Masonry in Memphis, Michigan, and whose youngest son Jeff is a 19-year-old defenseman for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. "We're optimistic. If we keep it running like this we'll have our opportunities."
Ed Cooper has brought his Allison V-12 piston-power – a motor originally used in World War II fighter planes – for decades. With help from the Budweiser team in the late 1990s, they built the boat around the engine, finishing the three-year project in 2002, a year before winning the Gold Cup on the Detroit River with Mitch Evans as the pilot.
Cooper, like King, is happy to be back racing again, especially on the Detroit River.
"My issue wasn't that I didn't want to run my boat anymore, it just became intolerable for me what the situation was, and the management of H1 has changed so I gave it a shot," said Cooper, a retired history and geography teacher from Evansville, Indiana.
"This is an exciting race course, nice facility, and fans who like the old-school boat so it's kind of neat to be here.
Cooper proudly noted the Allison was built by General Motors.
"General Motors is sponsoring this event and this engine was built by General Motors since Allison was a division of General Motors," Cooper said.
Now, Cooper is in search of more speed. He made a move that helped early Saturday.
"We'd like to find a little more speed," Cooper said. "We've been fighting issues the last couple of races of some misfiring and so on, and it did it again in the first run (today). ... The last two times it's run the engine has been fine. We just need to tune a little more speed out of it."
Ticket information: (313) 329-8047
9:40 a.m.: Tunnel boat heat
10:10-10:30 a.m.: Grand Prix 3-A heat
10:35-10:50 a.m.: Grand Prix 3-B heat
10:55-11:10 a.m.: Grand Prix 3-C heat
11:20-11:40 a.m.: Unlimited 2-A heat
11:40 a.m.-noon: Unlimited 2-B heat
1:30-1:50 p.m.: Unlimited 3-A heat
2-2:20 p.m.: Unlimited 3-B heat
2:30-2:50 p.m.: Tunnel boat final
3:15-3:40 p.m.: Grand Prix final
4:10-4:30 p.m.: Unlimited final