It was a high high and a low low for the Wiggins U-27 H1 hydroplane race team on the western swing of the H1 Unlimited season. Wiggins is based in Gadsden, the only H1 team in the Deep South, and is considered something of Guntersville’s “home town team” as it has several ties to the city.
• They finished 2nd at the Tri-Cities race on the Columbia River in Washington July 27-29.
• The very next week in Seattle, a lane encroachment by another boat wrecked U-27 driver Cal Phipps. The boat soared spectacularly in the air, then crashed to the water. It suffered such significant damage that it ended the 2018 season for the team.
“We were making progress on getting the boat to run like we wanted,” team owner Charley Wiggins said. Now, it will be a monumental effort just to get the boat repaired.
“We really don’t know the extent of the damage,” Wiggins said. To add insult to injury, their hauler broke down in Wyoming on the way home and the boat hasn’t made it back yet.
The team had a 2-race sponsorship deal for the Washington races with Oberto, the snack food maker.
Ivan Teal of Guntersville did the Oberto wrap on the boat and the hauler. And Bill Collins Jr. of Guntersville – a Wiggins crew member since his retirement from the lawn equipment business – drove the boat to Washington State.
“I can check driving a big truck across the country off my bucket list now,” Collins said.
He said the Oberto boat and truck drew a crowd everywhere they stopped along the way.
The Oberto sponsorship deal was struck in Guntersville as well.
“We had been talking for some time,” Wiggins said. “Larry Oberto’s son Art Oberto came to the race in Guntersville and spent the weekend with us, more or less evaluating the program. He and I talked a long time and they decided to sponsor us for Tri-Cities and Seattle.”
The team tweaked the boat at Tri-Cities and got it running faster and faster each team they got out on the water leading up to the 2nd place finish.
But they suffered setback after setback at Seattle.
“The Seattle race is held on Lake Washington ad it gets rough at times from some of the boat traffic,” Wiggins said. “They can’t shut down the entire lake when we race there. So you get these rollers from other boat traffic.”
The team lost a gear box on the boat during the western swing, but that was okay, Wiggins said. They had a different gearbox they could set in the boat. They were testing and trying to get the right prop to go with that gear box when they sheared a shaft in testing.
The prop came off the boat and went through the rear wing.
Hydroplane props run between $10,000 and $15,000.
“The rescue people saw it splash down and they recorded the coordinates,” Wiggins said. “It’s in 180 feet of water. But there’s a dive team out there that might use this as a training opportunity to try and recover it.”
The team had qualified on Friday. They lost the shaft and prop on Saturday morning. While working on that problem, they discovered a crack in the engine.
“We pulled the engine out and got that welded up,” Wiggins said. “We ran 3 heats on Sunday and won one of them. We were getting comfortable and fighting back.”
In the finals, the U1-27 drew Lane 1.
“Cal got a little bit of an early start and he had to check up just a little before the start line,” Wiggins said. “He was a couple boat lengths behind a couple other boats. In Turn 2, his lane just closed down.”
Some people call it an “encroachment” when one boat gets out of its racing lane and comes into the lane of a competitor.
“If you watch the video, you’ll see there’s no lane at all,” Wiggins said. “Once a boat gets in front of you like that, the tendency is for the boat to ride up the rooster tail. That’s what happened.”
The boat went way up in the air, came down hard on the right side and landed right side up.
“Cal was on the radio with us immediately, telling us he was okay and he got out of the boat immediately,” Wggins said.
The Detroit race is Aug. 24-26 and there’s no way the team will be ready for that race. They are highly doubtful for the season-ending San Diego Bayfair Race Sept. 14-16.
“There’s too much work to be repaired,” Wiggins said. “It will end our season. But we will revamp, get the boat repaired and get ready for next year. It’s part of racing. We’ve been there before.”
Ideally, he said, they would have a backup boat and just roll it out for the next race. But they don’t have that kind of funding.
Bill Collins Jr. has thoroughly enjoyed his time being part of the crew this year.
“Collins Auto Parts got its start as Collins Speed Shop,” he said. “Our roots were in racing.”
Collins father Bill Sr. set records in drag cars. Bill Jr. drove drag cars before he was even out of high school, driving from 1974-82.
He said it has been a lot of fun being around motorsports once again.
There are opportunities for more Marshall County people to get involved with the U-27 team, Wiggins said.
“We need help in various aspects of the team,” Wiggins said. “We need computer, high tech type people as well as mechanics who can turn a wrench. One of the other teams has a retired NASA scientist and we would love to have someone like that to help with our electronics and computers.”
Many of the exterior race parts are carbon fiber and the Wiggins shop has the ability to do much of that work in house.
People can email Wiggins at firstname.lastname@example.org.