Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Miss Madison, Ellstrom Racing, and Moneyball

First off my apologies for not writing a recap of San Diego.  I actually missed the majority of the race weekend due to work and a family event.  I'm sure you already know the results but I always enjoy writing the recaps.

The movie "Moneyball" is set to premiere this weekend.  It is based on the Michael Lewis book of the same title which is possibly the most talked about, most controversial, and (in my opinion) the bes book written about baseball in the last decade.  It is the story of the Oakland Athletics of the late 1990's and early 2000's.  The A's, despite having one of the smallest payrolls in baseball over this period, made the playoffs four straight seasons including 100+ win seasons in 2002 and 2003.  The A's did this by focusing on what other teams undervalued, such as Pitchers who could control the strike zone, hitters who had a keen ability to draw a lot of walks, and drafting College players who were routinely overlooked in the draft but were a safer bet to make the majors than High School players.  Within a few tears the other teams began to adopt similar principles, as well as more complex measures of evaluating players (a field known as sabermetrics) and soon even richer teams were able to reap the rewards of a system that the A's created almost out of necessity.

So what does this have to do with hydroplane racing?  Quite a bit actually.  Over a decade ago the two teams who currently dominate the H1 series were in a situation similar to that of the A's.  Miss Madison, Inc. and Marine Technologies were small, low budget teams in a sport full of big budget entries.  For these teams to be competitive, they needed to spend their money wisely. 

In the Miss Madison's case this was by no means something new.  For almost all of their history the Miss Madison had operated on what was effectively a shoestring budget but always found ways to be competitive.  Like Billy Beane and the A's, the Miss Madison was able to be competitive many years by focusing their efforts on an often undervalued commodity in racing: consistency.  The U-6, playing it safe and ensuring that they finished nearly every heat, often found itself ahead in the High Point standings of teams whose budget dwarfed that of the Miss Madison team.

Likewise, Marine Technologies had to make do with a smaller budget for much of the late 1990's.  The Ellstrom Family ran what was effectively an Unlimited Hydroplane version of a mom and pop operation with members of the Ellstrom family making up many of the key people on the team.  The team was an exclusively West Coast entry through much of its early years, but after winning in Tri-Cities in 2000 the decision was made to build a new boat and join the national tour.  Lacking a national sponsor who would spend millions to finance the new boat construction, the Ellstroms used their own expertise, which was an undervalued commodity for many years in Unlimited Racing but was also the one thing that the Marine Technologies team had in large quantities.  The result was a boat that was fast and successful right out of the box, winning the second race it ever run at Seattle in 2001 and following it up with a brilliant 2002 where they were the top qualifier at every race, won two races along the way, and finished second in the High Point chase that season.

Despite the successes of the U-6 and the U-16 over the years, they were unable to win the big prize in Unlimited Racing and so their efforts were often overlooked.  For years the presumed method of winning in Unlimited Racing was to get a big time sponsorship and invest as much money as possible by building new boats and hiring a high profile driver and a professional crew.  Hydroplanes, Inc. of course is the prime example of this, and so the other teams found themselves spending more money in order to be competitive against a team with a seemingly unlimited budget.  A lot of money fell by the wayside in this chase.  One famous example is Bob Taylor's Lite All Star Team, who spent a lot of money building a new turbine powered hydroplane back when turbines were still being figured out, but the team could never quite get a handle on the new technology and soon the team was soon out of business.  Another was the Circus Circus team, who was able to win the championship in 1990 but spent so much money in the process that many of the casino's investors and board members began to question the expenditure which led to the team being sold off.  The building of new hulls, the most expensive (and probably the most overvalued) expenditure that any hydroplane can undertake, was a common theme among these big budget teams.  Showing up to a race site with multiple hulls became a way for the haves to distinguish themselves from the have nots. While some hulls were not well thought out experiments that should have never left the drawing board like the three wing Circus Circus, the Winston Eagle "lobster boat" and perhaps even the two wing Miss Budweiser T-4 which the Miss Budweiser team wound up using in only one race (although it had a successful second life as the primary hull for Wurster and Schumacher Racing for many years after it was reconfigured as a one wing hull).  Hundreds of thousands of dollars was sunk into each of these boats which failed as competitors, money that no doubt could have been better used elsewhere within their respective organizations.  Instead they became sympols of the opulence of the big budget teams.  Despite the drawbacks, it is no secret that the richest team was also the most successful of the time, as the Miss Budweiser was able to outspend and outrun everybody.  As was memorably said in the Madison movie: Every now and then, a pocket full of cash will beat the pants off of plain old hard work..

As the years passed by, many of the big budget teams ceased to exist.  Less television and media coverage meant fewer sponsors.  This, along with the the fact that many teams saw their spending efforts futile when another team was willing to outspend everyone, meant a dwindling number of teams in the sport.  Then in 2004 the Miss Budweiser team ceased to exist.  No one was sure what happened, there was even concern that the sport as a whole would fall by the wayside (for more on this, read my previous post "Life After Budweiser, and be watching for a future post on the last days of Hydro-Prop).  The question became how could the sport survive with the lack of a big budget team, its lifeblood for so many years?  The answer was two teams who had made do with less for years would step to the forefront.  Miss E-Lam Plus, without major sponsorship, and Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, who had a sponsor  that allowed the team to show up for races but were using an ancient hull, were suddenly the top two teams in the sport.  The two teams who had learned to make do with less became dominant when less money was available.

Things just built from there.  The Ellstrom team was already leading in points halfway through the 2005 season but then scored a major coup when Dave Villwock joined their team.  Miss Madison, despite using one of the oldest boats in the fleet, finished second in High Points in 2005 and 2006.  Much of this was due to the leadership of Mike Hanson.  In his role as Crew Chief, long one of the most undervalued assets in hydroplane racing, he was able to get the most out of the old boat.  When the new hull was built for the Miss Madison in 2007, suddenly one of the hardest working teams in the business, which had to make do with an outdated hull for almost all of its history, had a state of the art hull.  Using the same tactics of focusing on consistent finishes which had worked for the Miss Madison team for so many years, the team was able to win three straight championships.

Marine Technologies was never far behind.  Consistently the fastest team in the fleet, they were able to find speed by exploiting another often overlooked commodity: propellers.  Propeller technology has often lagged behind other developments in Unlimited Hydroplane racing and was even the victim of a strange prejudice.  For many years teams refused to put a three blade propeller on their boat, thinking that it was a sign of something wrong with the boat.  That line of thought had changed when Jim Lucero's boats proved dominant using a three bladed prop, but the technology was still underdeveloped.  Marine Technologies, once again using their valuable expertise, found they had an advantage using thinner props in an era of fuel and N2 restrictions.  Soon, everyone saw this advantage and wanted an Ellstrom built thin prop on their hydroplane.

As can be seen, the Miss Madison and Ellstrom teams, like the Oakland A's of a decade ago, have been able to have success not by spending lots of money but by using the assets that they have.  Be it concepts like consistency and expertise or more visible elements such as hiring a top notch Crew Chief and focusing on propeller development, these two teams were able to exploit elements of the sport often undervalued by other teams and use them to their advantage.  Now, it is no secret that money has played a part as well.  The Miss Madison team wouldn't have acheived what they did if it werent for the support of the Oberto family.  Likewise the Ellstrom team has been greatly assisted by the support of the QMSF.  What differs, however, is that this financial support doesn't dwarf that of the other teams, which was so often the case of championship winning teams throughout the history of Unlimited racing.  While money is still an important factor, the Madison and Ellstrom teams have shown that, like Billy Beane and the Moneyball-era A's, knowledge and the ability to exploit an undervalued asset can often have the upper hand on extravagant spending.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

San Diego Preview: Will There be an Upset?

After the past few weeks have been dominated by news of exhibition races, the San Diego Bayfair race has almost become an afterthought.  There will be a full race this weekend, however, and ten Unlimiteds will show up for what is often the most unpredictable race on H1's North American tour.  It is no secret that recent years have been dominated by two boats.  Since the sixth Miss Madison made its debut in 2007, there have been 23 races in which both the current Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison hull and the Qatar/Ellstrom hull have made an appearance, and in those 23 races one of those two boats has won 21 times.

So will someone among the "also rans" step up and pull off an upset?  It's likely in San Diego.  First, a number of hydroplanes have made strong showings throughout the year although they have yet to find the winner's circle, something that could easily change this weekend.  Furthermore, San Diego has seen a number of upsets in recent years.  Regular readers of this blog might remember in the Tri-Cities preview that I noted that six of the last seven Columbia Cup winners went on to be High Point Champions (a trend that will more than likely continue this year unless there's a huge turnaround in the standings).  San Diego has been the exact opposite, with only two winners in San Diego going on to be High Point champions since 2001.  The saltwater, high speeds, and unpredictable wind patterns have always meant that attrition is high in San Diego so the course lends itself to very fast but very unpredictable racing that often sees an upset winner.

Finally, and most notably, a new starting procedure has been introduced for the San Diego and Doha races.  Gone is the fighting for lane procedure amid concerns on what the slow speeds and high water intake would do to the engines and propellers on the saltwater courses.  Lane choice is back, but in a different form than what has been used in recent years, with lane choice being decided by the order of a draw.  This hasn't been without controversy, but for the purposes of this blog that's a different discussion for a different post.  Undoubtedly, however, it adds the already unpredictable nature of the San Diego race.

The U-96 Spirit of Qatar saw their heat winning streak snapped with a third place finish at the Final Heat in Seattle, largely due to some spectacular strategic driving by Steve David and Scott Liddycoat.  The boat still has a large lead in the High Point standings, and Dave Villwock and the boat have always been strong on large fast courses like San Diego.  Although the lane assignment by blind draw rule was undoubtedly put in place to increase parity, the new rule might actually benefit the U-96 more than any other team.  This rule allows the team to prepare the boat in anticicpation of a specific lane, which allows them to use their expertise in propeller and gear ration combinations.  Also, Villwock has shown ability to win races from the outside in the past, often leaving a boat on the inside just the amount of room the rulebook requires.  So although the new rules might put the U-96 in an outside lane, that doesn't put them out of the race.

The U-5 Graham Trucking has moved to second in the High Point standings.  Despite a strong performance in preliminary heats this season, the U-5 has essentially been a non-factor in Final Heats this season (with the possible exception of Detroit).  Jeff Bernard has won in  San Diego before, and it seems like only a matter of time before this team breaks through with a strong Final Heat performance with all of its preliminary heat victories so far this season.  The new  rules might hamstring this team more than others, since Jeff Bernard has shown a keen ability to leapfrog into an inside lane this season.

The U-17 Miss Red Dot saw much of its luck turn around in Seattle, where the team was disqualified in one preliminary heat and was left out of the running in the Final Heat for the first time this season.  Whether or not there will be a rebound this weekend is left to be seen.  Kip Brown is no doubt the most improved driver on the tour this season, and it would be out of the question for Kip and the U-17 team to score their first victory in San Diego.

The U-7 Valken had another strong day at Seattle, with a second place finish.  Scott Liddycoat is having one of the most spectacular rookie seasons in recent memory, putting the U-7 in a place to win in almost every heat.  Driving a boat that has won in San Diego multiple times, Scott Liddycoat could become the first driver since Mike Allen to win a race in his rookie season.

The U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison made a great showing in the Final Heat at Seattle, winning the race going away.  The team did not make up much ground in the standings, however, and still finds itself fifth in High Points.  Steve David has made some fantastic starts this season, but always seems to have bad luck in San Diego, where he has only won once.  Despite this, it is always foolish to count out the Miss Madison team and the U-1 should make up some ground in the High Point race, perhaps even move up to second before the weekend is over.

The 88 Degree Men continues to improve in the hull's first season and finds itself sixth in points despite failing to score any points at the season opener in Madison.  The team is in the middle of a very busy three weekend cross country trip that started in Sacramento last weekend, continues this weekend in San Diego, and finishes next weekend in Washington, DC.  J. Michael Kelly made a strong showing in the Final in Seattle, finishing fourth after starting as the trailer, and the boat looked strong again in the exhibition at Sacramento.  The new hull seems to get better every time it goes out and that should continue this weekend.

Another new sponsor is on board, and the Go Fast Turn Left Racing team will race this weekend as the U-21 TapouT.  As always, it's nice to see a big time recognizable sponsor support one of the racing teams, and it will be interesting to see if this results in a full year sponsorship next season (much like the Degree Men sponsorship did for Schumacher racing last year).  The boat qualified for both of the Final Heats in Washington, but had issues with fuel flow in Sacramento that saw the boat go dead in the water numerous times.  Brian Perkins continues to get more experienced and more comfortable behind the wheel and it would be nice to see this team turn in a strong performance for its new sponsor.  TapouT is a brand that is instantly recognizable with many younger fans (it's a sponsor of Mixed Martial Arts events as well as a marketer of different products and clothing for the sport) so the boat could go a long way in appealing to a younger generation.

The U-100 Leland Unlimited team is making yet another change this weekend, switching back to the maroon and black hydroplane they have used in recent years and leaving the all white "dustbuster" boat in the garage.  Although this boat raced this season as the U-99 in Tri-Cities and as the U-100 in Sacramento, this will be the hull's first appearance as the U-100 in a point race this season.  Greg Hopp will also be pulling double duty, as the GP West boats will also be competing in San Diego.  More than likely the team's strategy will be to play it safe in anticipation of the Doha race, but it isn't out of the question for the team to sneak into the Final Heat and with the new rules in place they might even find themselves in contention.

The U-57 Formulaboats.com had their best race of the year in Seattle, scoring more points than it had in any previous race and finishing sixth in the Final Heat.  Veteran Mark Evans continues his fine comeback season and now finds himself coming back to the race that he won in 1996 and 1997.  It is left to be seen how this boat will perform in salt water (it has usually struggled in San Diego) but Mark Evans and the crew have shown throughout the year that they are able to get the most out of this old hull.  Bianca Bononcini should also get some more seat time this weekend.

The U-11 Peters & May had a nightmarish day in Seattle that saw the team unable to score a single point, but the team rebounded with a strong showing at Sacramento.  JW Myers hasn't raced many times in San Diego, but always seems to perform well on fast courses.  Up to this point in the season, the team's focus has seemingly been on getting more experience in the team's first year of existence, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see more of the same with the trip to Doha around the corner.

Also in San Diego: The P1 Superstocks will see their first USA tour come to a close.  The boats have put on a fantastic show throughout the year, including at the Unlimited race sites of Madison and Detroit.  Leading the way will be the Oregon Custom Marine, who has a scant one point lead over the Miss Madison, who has won two events so far this season including its "home" race in Madison.  Also expected to compete are the Peters & May, JD Byrider, K Way, Mandigo Bay, Ocala Grand Prix, and United States Coast Guard.  The boat count has nearly doubled since the series made its United States debut in Madison earlier this year, and has been a hit everywhere they've raced so far this season.  All in all, it's been a very successful first year for the P1 Superstock Panther class in the United States.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Day in the Life: September 18, 1988

As the San Diego race approaches, it's time once again to look back on a memorable race weekend on Thunder The Bridge.  This time, the subject is the 1988 San Diego Bayfair regatta.  The race was immediately remembered for one of the most spectacular accidents in Unlimited Hydroplane history, and would be remembered in later years as the end of an era of sorts for Unlimited racing.  Although nobody knew it at the time, the 1988 San Diego race would represent the last hurrah for one of the greatest engines in Unlimited Hydroplane history.

Buildup: In a more abstract sense, the story of the San Diego 1988 race begins with the post World War II era of Unlimited racing.  As the war ended, the Unlimited class was formed by the APBA to take advantage of the surplus of aircraft engines.  At first, most teams opted for the more reliable and widely available Allison engine rather then the more temperamental British built Rolls Royce Merlin.  This began to change in the mid-1950's, especially when the Merlin powered Slo-Mo-Shun V dominated the 1954 Gold Cup.  By the time the Unlimited Racing Commission was formed in 1957, most of the top teams in the sport were using the Merlin engine.  In fact, from 1957 to 1979 every single High Point champion used a Merlin engine.

This began to change in 1980.  That year, Miss Budweiser won the championship using the more powerful Rolls Royce Griffon engine.  By that point there was a dwindling number of World War II aircraft engines.  Although the Merlin powered Atlas Van Lines won the title in 1982 and 1983, the beginning of the end came in 1984 when the same Atlas team introduced a turbine powered hydroplane.  The Atlas team won the title in 1985 while the turbine powered Miss Budweiser won the championship in 1986.  In 1987, for the first time in Unlimited Hydroplane history, no team using a Merlin or Allison engine was able to win a single race.  By 1988 only one team racing full time was using Merlin power.

Surprisingly, that one team went on to have a spectacular season and showed the hydroplane world that the old Merlin engine wasn't quite dead yet.  Jim Harvey's Oh Boy! Oberto team was coming off a 1987 season that never really got off the ground.  The boat suffered damage in a highway accident on the way to the season opener in Miami, wasn't able to rejoin the tour in Tri-Cities, and was essentially a non factor for the rest of the season.  In 1988, the Oh Boy! Oberto not only made it to Miami but was able win the race when the saltwater spray knocked out the turbine competitors.  Their solid season continued with podium finishes at Detroit and Madison and the team came in to San Diego in high spirits.

The same could not be said, however, for another team rolling into the pits of San Diego in 1988.  Fran Muncey's team opted to campaign two teams in 1988 with mixed results.  Chip Hanauer was able to drive the Miller High Life to victory at Detroit and subbed for John Prevost to drive the Miss Circus Circus to victory at the Evansville Gold Cup race, but as the season stretched on a frustration began to mount as neither boat on the team was not able to find victory lane.  After the Seattle race, a strange swap was implemented where Chip Hanauer, along with the Miller High Life sponsorship, would go to the U-31 team using the 1987-00 hull while John Prevost and the Circus Circus sponsorshp would join the U-00 team using the 1984-01 hull.

Also coming to San Diego that weekend was another team having an up and down year.  The Miss Madison team expected to start the season with a new state of the art hull, so much so that the team entered its boat the final race of 1987 as the "Holset Mrs. Madison."  Construction of the new hull took longer than expected, however, and the team was forced to enter their old hull into competition.  In Tri-Cities the new boat was finally able to debut and set the hydroplane world on its ear with a solid performance right out of the box, making a strong impression in the preliminary heats and finishing fifth in the Final.  In Seattle, however, their luck would change when the hull was quite literally "rear ended" by the Miss Circus Circus after a preliminary heat.  The team was coming into San Diego with a promising but still untested Allison powered hydroplane.

The Race: It didn't take long for things to get interesting in San Diego.  In Heat 1B, the Oh Boy! Oberto jumped out to an early lead after the Miss Madison had to slow down at the start and the Circus Circus was late to the lane.  On the backstretch, the Miss Madison and Circus Circus were closing in on the Oberto when something unbelievable happened.  Both the Miss Madison and the Circus Circus caught the same gust of wind and both boats went over.  The Circus Circus landed right side up, the Miss Madison landed upside down, and the moment had immediately become a part of Unlimited Hydroplane lore.  The "double blowover," as it would come to be known was shown on ESPN numerous times as well as TV stations across the country (this was the pre-You Tube version of going viral).  After the second heat of racing in San Diego, Unlimited Hydroplane history had already been made.

The rest of the day was essentially without incident.  The plethora of DNS's and DNF's, which had become a regular part of the saltwater races at Miami and San Diego in the early turbine era, was ever present at San Diego on that day.  The Miller High Life wasn't able to start either of its preliminary heats.  The turbine Pringle's boat won heat 1A but failed to start Heat 2B or the Final.  The piston powered U-3 finished fourth in Heat 1A and didn't start Heat 2B, but still made the Final due to the attrition of the day, where it failed to start.  Also failing to start the Final was the Pocket Saver's Plus and the Miller High Life, who was the alternate despite not scoring any points on the day.  That left Oh Boy! Oberto with 800 points, the Miss Budweiser with 700 points, and the Paddock Pools with a surprising 600 points to start the Final.

It didn't take long for the attrition of the day to continue. The Miss Budweiser had a lead succombed to the salt water in lap two and was left dead in the water.  That left George Wood in the Oh Boy! Oberto to win the race essentially unchallenged.  The Paddock Pools trailed but blew its engine before the finish, which meant the Final of a crazy day of racing had only one finisher.  Despite failing to finish the race, the Paddock Pools officially finished second, which would prove to be the highest finish for Al Thorson's U-7 entry, which was a regular on the tour for a number of years in the 1980's and early 1990's but was a perennial also ran.

Aftermath: The three teams that came into San Diego in three different directions also left the race in different directions.  The Miss Madison was forced to lease the U-3 hull for the season ending Las Vegas race, but the team was able to rebound from the new hull's shaky debut with a strong 1989 that saw the U-6 break a number of piston powered speed records and finish third in High Points.  The Circus Circus team was also done for 1988.  After the season finale in Las Vegas, Fran Muncey would retire as an owner, selling most of her equipment to Circus Circus, who would retain Chip Hanauer as a driver.  John Prevost's career was also done after the 1988 San Diego race.  The double blowover was also the last ride in the U-6 for longtime Miss Madison driver Ron Snyder, who would appear in a few races in 1989 behind the wheel of the automotive powered U-9 before calling it a career.The Oh Boy! Oberto would finish the 1988 third in High Points and would have another strong season in 1989 despite not winning a race.  Much of the concern after the 1988 San Diego race was whether or not a repeat would happen in 1989, when San Diego was slated to host the Gold Cup.  Despite the concerns, the 1989 Gold Cup race in San Diego went off without a hitch.  There was attrition, but unlike 1988 the 1989 San Diego race had a full field for the Final Heat, where the Miss Budweiser held off a late charge by the Oh Boy! Oberto to win the Gold Cup.  A single finisher in a Final Heat, an occasional occurence during Unlimited racing's piston era (most famously in 1978 in Miami where the Atlas Van Lines was not only the only finisher but also the only starter), would never happen again after the 1988 San Diego race.

More famously, however, the 1988 San Diego race would provide another last in Unlimited Hydroplane history.  The Rolls Royce Merlin engine, so long dominant in the Unlimited class, would see its last victory on that September day.  Jim Harvey's team would use the Merlin engine a couple more years before switching over to turbine power in 1991 and there were no more Unlimiteds using the Merlin engine.  Occasionally there is talk of another team that plans to join the tour with a Merlin powered hydroplane (just as there is similar talk of an Allison or automotive powered hydroplane) but twenty years later there has yet to be another Merlin powered hydroplane enter competition.

The 1988 San Diego race was memorable from the moment it happened due to the double blowover.  It also represented a historical anomaly that rarely happened with one finisher in the Final Heat as well as the end of an era with the final victory for a Merlin powered hydroplane.  So despite being seen as a bit of a dud of a show as it happened (every article I read on the race was extremely negative), the 1988 San Diego race would become memorable for a number of reasons for years to come.

My thanks to Jim Sharkey's Hydro's Who's Who as well as Fred Farley's article titled "Rolls Royce Merlin question" for their information that contributed to this post.  Also used was an Unlimited News Journal article covering the 1988 San Diego race taken from Leslie Field's Hydroplane History site.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sacramento Preview: An exhibition full of opportunities for everyone involved

For the first time in 44 years, the Unlimited Hydroplanes will race on Folsom Lake near Sacramento.  The exhibition will serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts to test the viability of the venue and especially to gauge the interest of the local community of holding a race.  The hope is to have a full-fledged race in Sacramento in 2012, with a May date being mentioned as the most likely option.

For this preview, I will treat it like I have my other race previews and focus on the teams involved in the event.  Coincidence or not, all four teams taking part in the exhibition should be looking forward to the opportunity to get their boats in the water for some more test time.  Whether it's a new team, a new boat, a rough season up to this point, or some combination of these things, all of the teams involved in the Sacramento exhibition should see the event as a chance to get some more time in the water as the season heads into the homestretch

The U-11 Miss Peters & May began the season with a lot of hope for the Unlimited Racing Group's first season, but this season has become more of "shake down" year as everyone grows accustomed to their new roles and their still new hull.  After failing to score a single point in Seattle, the team finds themselves in tenth place in the High Point standings.  Obviously, JW Myers and the crew should welcome the extra time in the water after the first four races of the season has been full of struggles for the team.  A nice performance in the Sacramento exhibition could be a springboard for a strong showing in San Diego next week.

The U-21 Go Fast Turn Left Racing team has rebounded nicely after their horrific accident in Madison, qualifying for the Final Heat in both Tri-Cities and Seattle .  The still young and relatively inexperienced Brian Perkins and this still young team is still looking to make up ground, however, and the Sacramento exhibition should be a nice test venue for a team that seems poised to make the move to be one of the contenders in the sport.

The 88 Degree Men, like many teams throughout the years running with a brand new hull, welcome any opportunity to put their new boat in the water and see what it has.  The team finds itself sitting sixth in points, which is a solid showing considering that they didn't score a single point in Madison.  The 88's involvement also gives fans the opportunity to see one of the sport's best young and up and coming drivers in J. Michael Kelly as well as one of the sport's best new sponsors in Degree Men.  This is also the first of three busy weekends for the team, as they will be in Sacramento on Thursday, San Diego next weekend, and Washington, DC for the exhibition the following Friday.  Hopefully the team will pack some coffee along with their Degree Men products.

The U-100 Leland Unlimited team will  come into Sacramento with a new old look.  Reports are that the team will switch back to the black and maroon 19980-99 hull that the team has used in previous years and raced as the U-99 Miss HAPO Credit Union.  Also, Ryan Mallow, who qualified as a driver in this hull in Tri-Cities this year, will be subbing for Greg Hopp at the exhibition.  Therefore not only will the team get to see if a different hull will produce better results, but a young up and coming driver gets a chance to get some more seat time in an Unlimited.