Tuesday, July 5, 2011

U-9 to be the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto in Detroit, Jon Zimmerman the Driver

As I'm sure you've already heard, for the Gold Cup Miss Madison, Inc. will be leasing the U-9 hull from Jones Racing with Jon Zimmerman as the driver after this Sunday's accident in Madison left the primary U-1 hull heavily damaged and Steve David.  All early indications show that this will probably be a one race deal and Steve David and the Miss Madison VI will be back for the Tri-Cities race. 

The U-9 hull, or the 1992-102, will be the ninth boat in history to carry the Miss Madison colors in a race.  Aside from the six hulls that have been primary Miss Madison hulls, there have been three hulls that the Miss Madison leased in its fifty one year history with the U-9 hull being the third.  In 1983 the Miss Madison leased a hull for one race after their primary hull sustained damage in Miami.  The boat, a step hydroplane that had been built many years before, failed to qualify for the race at Romulus, New York.  In 1988, after the Miss Madison V was damaged in the famous double blowover in San Diego, Miss Madison, Inc. leased the Cooper's Express hull in order to fulfill a sponsorship requirement at the final race of the season in Las Vegas where regular U-3 driver Mitch Evans drove the boat to a fifth place finish.

The 1992-102 hull has an interesting history of its own.  It was originally built by Ron Jones as a two-winged hydro but has long since then been converted to a more conventional single wing design.  Despite being nineteen years old it has only appeared in 31% of the Unlimited races that have taken place between its debut and now.  The boat was only a full time competitor for four years, didn't race at all for seven separate years, and hasn't raced outside of the state of Washington since 2003. 

Despite this history of on again, off again participation, the boat has made some memories along the way.  It made its debut in Seattle in 1992 as Coor's Dry with Mitch Evans behind the wheel.  Then in San Diego Dave Villwock made his Unlimited debut and drove the boat to an upset victory.
The next season, Ron Jones' racing team secured sponsorship from Circus Circus casino, but after the Evansville race the team decided to switch to the 1984 hull.  The boat was sold to the Exide battery company in 1994, and it appeared in a few races as the Miss Exide II, although it only scored points in Detroit.  In 1996 Mike Jones campaigned three boats and the 1992-102 was one of them.  Racing as the Miss Exide II, the boat ran in three races bu failed to make it to any Final Heats.  Over the next three years the boat only appeared in the two Washington races in 1998 and failed to qualify for either of them.

2000 saw a huge reversal of fortune for the for the 1992-102 when Jones Racing made the decision to retire the 1984 hull and make the 1992-102 their primary hull.  Along with driver and expert boatbuilder Mike Hanson, the U-9 was one of the top teams in Unlimited Hydroplane racing for the early 2000's.  2000 saw the team finish third in Madison and second in Seattle while finishing fourth in the High Point chase.  In 2001 the boat carried Mike Hanson to the Gold Cup.
2002 brought more success as the team won in San Diego, finished thired in Evansville and Detroit, and finished third in the High Point race.
In 2003 the U-9 was the runner up in the High Point race with a second in Evansville and thirds at Madison and Detroit.  2004 saw the boat drydocked as Mike Hanson left the team to become crew chief of the Miss Madison and Mike Jones went into semi-retirement.  From then on the U-9 would only appear sporadically at the Washington races.  2006 was one of those years and the U-9 didn't make it to the Final of either race. In 2007 the U-9 was able to make it to the Final Heat in Tri-Cities, but then flipped in Seattle.  The 1992-102 hull has appeared in only one race the last three years: Seattle in 2009 where David Williams wasn't able to make the cut for the Final Heat.  This does not mean, however, that the boat is going to be "pulled out of the mothballs" per se.  Mike Hanson, who has always had a close relationship with the Jones family, spent a lot of time working on the boat in the offseason as the U-1 was in transit back from Qatar.  It is no accident that Miss Madison, Inc. chose this boat out of the hulls available to rent.  Crew Chief Mike Hanson probably knows this boat better than anyone, and he drove the hull to much success.

Just as the U-9 hull was the best option for the team, so was Jon Zimmerman.  Clearly the team wanted to name a driver who wouldn't need to qualify or requalify to compete, as this would take away from much needed set up time for the one race the driver would be expected to be piloting the replacement Miss Madison hull.  Zimmerman, last year's rookie of the year, showed that he can very much fill this role as he was the backup driver of a backup hull for the U-37 team after their accident in Detroit last year.  Jon Zimmerman started and finished all three Final Heats in which he drove the U-37 and, despite having no podium finishes or heat wins (with the exception of a consolation heat in Seattle), Zimmerman deserves a lot of credit just for making the U-37 respectable while facing some very difficult odds.  He should be able to do the same for the Miss Madison team.  One would expect that a Driver in a backup boat would be asked just to "hold down the fort" and play it safe in this situation, especially since the Miss Madison team's focus is always on the High Point title.  That would be expected for any other race, but this is the Gold Cup.  Despite a solid boat and a solid driver it is no secret that this is a big step down from what the Miss Madison team is used to working with.  Zimmerman and the 1992-102 should make a solid showing though and all of the Madison fans certainly are proud of the team's resolve for making it to Detroit after their horrific accident in Madison.  Go get em!

This work would not have been possible without Jim Sharkey's fine work in Hydro's Who's Who and on the H1 Unlimited website.  And once again, thanks to Tom Ace for his YouTube posts of hydro broadcasts.

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