News Column

Gold Cup: Spacecraft engineer Jimmy Shane would rather fly hydros than rockets

July 11, 2014

By Mike Brudenell, Detroit Free Press

July 11--There's no braver unlimited hydroplane driver than Jimmy Shane.

The 28-year-old pilots -- flies might be a more apt word -- these 3,000-horsepower winged thunderboats like few others, always willing to push the envelope and test the limits of their performance.

But outer space? Shane says he has no real desire to travel into the wild blue yonder, even though he probably could.

By day, Shane races powerboats; by night, he builds spacecraft for private aerospace company Blue Origin, located in Kent, Wash.

Blue Origin, owned by founder Jeff Bezos, is developing technology to enable private human travel to space. Shane works for Bezos as an integration engineer.

But would he one day fly for him?

"It's an amazing place, but I have no aspirations to test my limits in a rocket," Shane said when asked if he'd ever pilot a spacecraft -- or go along for the ride as a passenger. "I'll stick to the water, thank you."

Today, Shane will do just that on the Detroit River.

He'll belt into the cockpit of his unlimited machine -- the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto -- for testing and qualification runs for Sunday's Detroit APBA Gold Cup presented by the Detroit Yacht Club.

Shane is the future of unlimited hydroplane racing, following in the wake of such superstars of the sport as Dave Villwock and Steve David, who have retired over the past couple years. Shane is expected to be the driver to beat this weekend, having replaced David, a 12-time Gold Cup runner-up, in the Oberto boat.

"Our boat is extremely fast, and all drivers want to win the Gold Cup. It's the epitome of any boat-racing trophy or achievement," said Shane, who is from Covington, Wash., and was the H1 Unlimited Series champion in 2013. "It would be pretty amazing if we could win on Sunday."

Last year, Shane had a boat to win at Detroit but broke a canard in the Gold Cup final and finished fifth to Kip Brown. But over the Fourth of July weekend, Shane showed this year's boat had lots of grunt, winning three heats at the Madison Regatta at Madison, Ind., before jumping the start in the final and being penalized.

"I was a fraction of a second early to the line," Shane said of his and the team's miscalculation at Madison. "It was very upsetting to us and the fans, but we still came away with the points lead. I can't wait to get the boat in the water in Detroit."

Shane is taking over from one of the best unlimited hydroplane drivers who ever lived in David, who hung up the helmet after last season.

He knows he has big shoes to fill.

"Steve David -- you could see how hard he drove," Shane said. "You learn a lot racing against drivers like him."

The motto of the Blue Origin company is "Gradatim Ferociter," Latin for "step-by-step, ferociously."

It fits with Shane's philosophy about racing. He knows he is still young and somewhat inexperienced in these enormously powerful and unforgiving boats. But he attacks the racecourse like Villwock and David did and already has proven he has what it takes.

"The Detroit River is extremely challenging," said Shane, who drove for Graham Trucking in 2013 but now drives for the City of Madison, which owns Oberto. "It's tough and unforgiving but one of the best racecourses in the world."

Shane, however, is ready to win in the Motor City.

"We'll give it 110%," Shane said. "There's no other way here."

Contact Mike Brudenell: . Follow him on Twitter @mikebrudenell .



What: Detroit APBA Gold Cup presented by the Detroit Yacht Club unlimited hydroplane races.


Today (free) -- H1 unlimited hydroplane heats at noon, qualifying at 5 p.m. Saturday -- Unlimited testing at 9 a.m., heats at 1:40 and 4:40 p.m. Sunday -- Unlimited heats at 11:20 a.m. and 2:10 p.m., APBA Gold Cup final at 4:30 p.m.

Where: Detroit River racecourse (between MacArthur Bridge and Roostertail).

Weekend support races: 5-liter hydroplanes and vintage boats.

Live weekend entertainment: Music, bands and hot-rod show.

Tickets: $45-$200. Visit for more information.


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Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)

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