Detroit — Andrew Tate of Walled Lake hit the start line in the cockpit of the U-9 RealTrac-Delta Gear with such precision that an hour after the finish of the first President’s Cup on the Detroit River Saturday some folks still wanted to see photographs of the start.
They still could not believe Tate did it “clean.”
But American Power Boat Racing officials said he met the line at quite nearly the precise moment the clock started the race.
By Turn 1, down by the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, Tate’s momentum gave him a surging lead.
Despite some three-wide racing with the two drivers and teams who entered the race ahead of him in the H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes league, Jimmy Shane in Miss Homestreet and J. Michael Kelly in Graham Trucking, the 28-year-old with an easy smile never lost the lead.
The 2016 rookie of the year in H1 garnered his second career victory.
“Not much to say, right now. I’m running on adrenaline still,” said Tate, whose mom, dad, grandfather and great-grandfather have all driven unlimited hydroplanes.
His dad, Mark, won Gold Cups in 1991 and 1994 on the Detroit River.
“That was very, very special for me and the family,” Tate said.
“We were the fastest qualifier yesterday, so we figured we had the fastest boat. Hopefully; we were banking on it going into the finals. We were trying to keep our noses clean.
“We made a mistake in Seattle that killed us, going into the finals,” Tate said.
Tate might well have won another race, earlier this year.
Probably the quickest boat in Seattle, too, he dislodged a buoy during the pre-race milling time, and Shane took the checkered.
Shane, Kelly and Tate now have won the three H1 Hydroplane championship points races so far this season.
“That was a rough one for us,” said Shane, in the pits after the race. “We had, actually, a really good start. I thought the other two boats (driven by Tate and Kelly) were jumping the gun, and I guess it took them a while to review the videotape.
“Andrew must have absolutely laced the start, probably within a foot or two, my guess is.
“But he had a full head of steam going down there,” Shane said. “He had a big advantage on the first lap.”
With the wind from the southeast blowing up the backstretch at eight-to-12 miles per hour, some of the racing by the Detroit Yacht Club proved dicey all day.
The same conditions with the wind blowing from the west, against the comparatively brisk current of the Detroit River, would probably have led to canceling racing for the day.
It created some interesting circumstances, including Shane lifting entirely off the surface of the river for a couple of long, awkward stretches, as he tried to catch up to Tate on the backstretch.
A good number of fans and race officials thought, in those moments, the second major incident of the day would occur.
But Shane held down Miss Homestreet.
“I actually caught them in the back stretch and the three of us were going to come into the Roostertail turn three abreast,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I hit a roller right at the yacht club, there and the boat got really, really loose. I’m very lucky to be able to bring it down.
“It was just about ready to go over.”
His momentum interrupted, Shane continued to duel with Kelly for second, with the Graham Trucking driver eventually locking it down.
As for Tate?
Gone, like the wind.
At times he opened up a lead that ran longer than the length of the rooster tail generated by the Realtrac/Delta Gear, which is also sometimes called the Les Schwab Tires, depending on which sponsor is featured in which race.
“It’s a long weekend,” said Tate, referring to the different strategies in place this weekend for the 2017 Spirit of Detroit Hydrofest, which for the first time features a doubleheader.
“We wanted to make sure we were going to have a lane and be clean and hit the start flying.
“That was the whole game plan.”
At the end of the race, and heading into the Gold Cup Sunday, Shane, Kelly and Tate still were first, second and third in the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane standings. But championship tightened, and Tate is challenging for the title in his second season.
Shane has 4,399 points, Kelly has 4,215, and Tate 4,200.
The winner of each heat, including the final, receives 400 points, while 300 is awarded for second, 225 for third, 169 for fourth and 127 for fifth.
Tate ran at 150.654 mph, Kelly 147.900 and Shane 143.314.
Bert Henderson finished fourth in the U-7 Spirit of Detroit, at 132.883. Dustin Echols in the underpowered, but willing to compete, Bucket List at 75.244 eventually brought up the rear.
“What a race!” Tate said, still exhilarated 30 minutes after the finish.
“Jimmy Shane and Michael Kelly are just two heck-of-a-drivers, and to go out here and compete with them and race like that have to be exciting for everyone on the shore.
“I almost wish I was in the stands, watching,” he said.
The Gold Cup will be raced Sunday, with the first heats slated for 11 a.m. and 11:20.
The second heats are scheduled for 2:15 p.m. and 2:30, with the final at 4:35 p.m.
All day Saturday drivers said that while the direction of the wind made for good racing, the brisker-than-desired velocity tossed up rolling waves on the back straight, along Belle Isle and the Detroit Yacht Club.
Tate won the first President’s Cup in the 104-year history of large motor boat racing in Detroit. Raced every year, except during World War II, on the Potomac River from 1926 to 1977, it is considered the second-most prestigious trophy on the H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes series, after the Gold Cup.
On the Potomac, the trophy often was presented by Presidents, especially in the heyday of the sport.
Detroiter Bill Muncey is the most dominant driver in the history of President’s Cup.
The son of an auto dealer, Muncey won six, beginning in Miss Thriftway in 1956, Miss Century 21 in 1961 and 1962, Mr Sheet Metal in 1960 and Atlas Van Lines in 1971 and 1977.
Another Detroiter, the electrician Chuck Thompson, won three in a row, 1950-52, in Miss Pepsi, which is on display in the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, on Belle Isle.
And, in 1927, the automobile heir Horace E. Dodge Jr., won the second President’s Cup, with a winning speed of 51.25 mph.
In the third heat of the race, the automobile heiress Delphine Dodge Baker piloted the Miss Pepsi, one of few women drivers in the history of the sport.