Oh Boy! Oberto posted Friday’s top qualifying result at 150.093 miles per hour in the Albert Lee Appliance Cup.
“It’s hydro racing. There’s a million things that have to go right.”
Erick Ellstrom’s words after the qualifying rounds of the Albert Lee Appliance Cup could not resonate more with his unlimited crew. The owner of the U-16 Oh Boy! Oberto boat, along with driver Jean Theoret, have seen their share of flukes — most recently last weekend, when Oh Boy! Oberto and Miss Madison, driven by Jimmy Shane, collided in the final of the HAPO Columbia Cup.
Theoret managed a second-place finish after Shane was given a one-lap penalty for the crash, but the U-16 was damaged. It took everything the Ellstrom crew had to repair it before Seafair.
“The guys worked like 16-hour days to fix the boat,” Theoret said. “When Jimmy and I hit, his radius is strong and it was a flat spot on our boat so it just crumpled it in.”
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So when Oh Boy! Oberto posted Friday’s top qualifying result at 150.093 miles per hour, the Ellstrom team remembered their owner’s words.
And though they beat the second finisher, Shane’s U-1 boat, by more than two miles per hour, they don’t take anything for granted.
“Everyone has a chance at winning this race, really, so you just have to prepare the best that you can and make your equipment run the way you have it designed to run,” Ellstrom said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
To ensure they once again achieved the top qualifying speed, he said they ran the race like it was a heat race rather than a qualifier.
The strategy has worked in the past — Ellstrom’s teams have been the top qualifier at Seafair 11 times since 2002.
But the team has also learned that qualifying times aren’t everything. Of the 11 times the Ellstrom team has had the top qualifying speed at Seafair, the team has won three events.
Challenging them this year will be Shane, the three-time defending national champion, and the U-5 Graham Trucking boat, driven by J. Michael Kelly. Kelly has won the past two Albert Lee Appliance Cups while Shane, a Covington resident, won in 2013.
In the qualifying round Friday, Shane posted a speed of 147.737 while Kelly was fourth at 147.504.
“It’s not a drag race, you have to finish your races and make sure everything is OK,” Theoret said. “It’s a long-term thing. The goal right now is to get to the final and see what happens from there.”
All nine boats that competed in the qualifying round made the cut for the first heat races, which take place Saturday morning.