In a sport where passing is rare and dangerous, the start of any H1 Unlimited Hydroplane race is crucial.
Nail the start, you get the inside lane and often the victory. Cross the start/finish line early and you get penalized a lap. Cross too late and you get a face full of rooster tail generated by a 3,000-horsepower jet engine turning a propeller through the water that creates a wall of water 40 feet high and 300 feet long.
Steve David, the driver of the Oh Boy! Oberto Miss Madison boat, is the master of the strategic start. He used his more than 25 years of H1 experience to his supreme advantage Sunday in the final race of the BigWake Weekend at Folsom Lake, the first H1 Unlimited hydroplane race at the lake since 1967.
David hit the start line just as the clock hit zeroes, goosed the throttle and cruised to an easy victory in front of a large crowd assembled on the shores near Granite Bay.
"The start is everything," David said after his seven-second margin of victory over Jimmy Shane in the Graham Trucking boat. "You want that quick start on the zeroes, which usually means a seven boat-length advantage, and then you can control the race."
Drivers are not allowed on the backstretch one minute before the start of the race but are allowed to cut across the infield to jockey for position. But momentum is everything, and David hit the starting line just as the clock hit zeroes and he was already near half throttle.
"(David) nailed it and I was a second late," said Shane, who won the first round of the series in Doha, Qatar, in February. "I can't complain when someone nails the start like that. But to emerge from this race healthy and in one piece is a blessing."
Shane overtook David for the overall series points lead with his second-place finish. He holds a slim 3,275-3,252 advantage entering the July 5-7 race in Madison, Ind. Miss Madison's home waters. Shane raced to the airport soon after the final to fly home to Maryland for the birth of his first child with his fiancée Bianca Bonincini.
David finished third in Qatar despite being penalized a lap for trying to steal Lane One from Shane and not having a five-boat-length overlap as required to change lanes.
Jon Zimmerman in the Team Red Dot boat finished third Sunday at Folsom Lake, but like David in Qatar, Zimmerman was penalized a lap for a lane-change violation and officially finished seventh and last.
That allowed J. Michael Kelly and the Performance Chevrolet Miss Beacon Plumbing boat to move into third.
"We had a very fast boat all weekend," said David, who set the fast qualifying time of 150.441 mph on Friday.
"I just had to settle down, and my crew settled down, too. We got the acceleration we were looking for that's more important than top-end speed. Races at Tri-Cities (Washington) and San Diego are more about top speed, but not here over the two-mile course."
David is a six-time national H1 high points champion and won the points title aboard the Oh Boy! Oberto Miss Madison in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
He finished second in 2011 behind the winningest driver in H1 history, Dave Villwock, and the Spirit of Qatar. Villwock has been hired by Bill Schumacher, owner of the Performance Chevrolet Miss Beacon Plumbing boat, to help guide it back into series contention.
David, 59, received a warm congratulatory handshake on the stage after the races from Schumacher, 70, the last man to win a hydroplane race on Folsom Lake in 1967.
"I'm the defending champion," Schumacher joked about the 46-year gap. "Let's see (Steve David) duplicate that feat."
Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.