Guntersville, Alabama would host the 2nd annual season opener for the Saturday Night Hydro League as 20 drivers took part in the Southern Cup at some point during the race weekend. Many interesting storylines developed entering the Southern Cup that contributed to what would be a fantastic showing put on by all of the SNHL drivers in Guntersville. Beau Rarig would replace the defending champion of the series in the U-1 Llumar Window Films as Kanfoush would miss the race due to a scheduling conflict. Rarig was the ideal replacement driver for Kanfoush as he's as consistent as they come and was last year's Southern Cup champion. With Kanfoush absent, the top contenders for this years Southern Cup would be DJ Miller and Matt Johnson, who have had their fair shares of battles with each other last season. These storylines would go on to play a huge role in the race for the Southern Cup.
DJ Miller and Matt Johnson were slated to face off in Heat 1A as the top qualifier DJ Miller would have the edge on Johnson in 1A with Miller finishing 1st and Johnson close behind in 2nd. Tim Johnson would start his season on the right foot with a 1B victory, Saxon Hopp would capture his 2nd heat win of his career in 1C and Beau Rarig started Kanfoush's campaign with a dominant 1D win. Jake Bell in the U-16 Red Bull Racing would get the bizarre 2A win as he was the only boat that would finish, 2B would go to Tim Johnson as he racks up back to back heat wins, Saxon Hopp continued his impressive weekend with a 2C victory, and Matt Johnson would even up the score with DJ Miller as he won 2D with Miller finishing in 3rd.
The 3rd flight of heats saw some epic deck to deck battles with everybody trying to accrue enough points to make the first final of the season. Mickey Washburn in the Kramerica presents Miss Vandelay would punch his ticket into the final with a 3A win, Kelsey Best representing the 12th man got the win in 3B, Beau Rarig got Team Llumar their 2nd heat win of the day in 3C, and DJ Miller secured his spot in the final with a 3D win. The consolation heat would see 6 drivers try to lock in to the trailer position for the Southern Cup as the lineup consisted of Beau Rarig in the U-1 LLumar Window Films, Kelsey Best in the U-12 Miss Seahawks, Peyton Hopp in the U-5 Graham Trucking, Chris Porten in the U-65 Oberto Specialty Meats, Jake Bell in the U-16 Red Bull Racing, and Gavin McClure in the GP-25 H8 Cancer Racing. Rarig was eager to win this race considering he had a near perfect performance in the prelims but crashed out in 2A. Rarig nailed the start and had a flawless race as he advanced on to the Southern Cup final. Peyton Hopp would give pursuit and close in, but ultimately came up one position short after struggling with mechanical issues the whole weekend.
"We were confident entering Guntersville, but the rough waters of Lake Guntersville was too much for our equipment early on. Our rudder bracket failed us in the first flight of heats as the boat was uncontrollable coming to the start. We were able to replace it in time for the 2nd set of heats but the alignment was off for most of the weekend. Heartbreaking way to start the season, but we feel like we can rebound at the Gold Cup if we play our cards right."
After an entertaining weekend of back and forth racing, the Southern Cup was about to be decided as 7 drivers had earned their way into the final. The official lineup would be Beau Rarig in the U-1 LLumar Window Films (trailer), Mickey Washburn in the U-9 Kramerica presents Miss Vandelay, Matt Johnson in the U-10 Matt Johnson Design, Luke Nelson (rookie) in the U-37 Beacon Plumbing, Tim Johnson in the U-50 Miss Tri-Cities, DJ Miller in the U-75 Digital Confectioners presents Depth, and Saxon Hopp in the U-100 Znetix who entered the final as the leader in points after dominating the prelims. He held 5 points over DJ Miller entering the final who also had a commanding set of prelim performances. As the 5 minute gun sounded, disaster would strike before all the boats could enter the course as rookie Luke Nelson in his first final would hit a roller and loose control as he would flip over before he could make his way onto the course. Nelson had a strong day entering the final with 2 2nd place finished and a 3rd but alas he would not see the start of the Southern Cup. This incident would move Beau Rarig up to be eligible to fight for lanes since Nelson was out of the race before the 1 minute gun.
The Milling period saw strategies play out early with DJ Miller trolling and nearly shutting the boat down on the front stretch as early as 2 1/2 minutes. Matt and Tim would slow down and troll back nearly half a front stretch back from Miller around 1:45 to go from the start, meanwhile Saxon Hopp would leapfrog both and slow up near Miller for lane 2. At the 1 minute mark, everybody was legal as Miller maintained his speed to establish lane 1 with Hopp in lane 2 and Matt Johnson in lane 3 with his brother on the outside. Miller and Johnson would nail the start with Hopp a little late in lane 2. Washburn on the outside would lead into turn 1 but have the disadvantage being on the outside with the rough Guntersville waters. Miller would jump out to the lead out of turn 1 with Johnson and Washburn half a roostertail back, vigorously flying the boat to keep in pace with Miller on the inside. Miller would pull ahead from Washburn, but Matt Johnson would stay within a roostertail. DJ Miller would maintain his lead for 5 laps en route to an error-free Southern Cup victory with Matt Johnson finishing strongly in 2nd place and Saxon Hopp edging out Tim Johnson for his first podium finish in 3rd.
DJ Miller seemingly crushed the competition in Guntersville as he came away with 2 heat victories, the 2019 Southern Cup champion, and the current points leader. Arguably the fastest and most efficient driver in the SNHL, Miller is more that satisfied of the weekend results that will give him the confidence needed to continue the momentum in Madison. "I couldn't have asked for a better start to the season. Getting the victory the first race takes a bit of the pressure off to win, so I can focus more on being consistent and hopefully maintain the points lead. The Gold Cup is a big points race with the extra flight of heats. I plan on doing my best to be mistake-free and score as many points as possible. It would be great to score back-to-back wins, but I'm focusing on the big picture."
Matt Johnson would end up as the runner-up in the first race of the season, but that is surely nothing to hang his hat on as his solid performance on the weekend puts him 4th in points and withing striking distance of the points leader. For Johnson, it all comes down to the simplicity of putting in the time and effort to increase your chances of winning. "Practice. I've been working hard to get as much speed out of the boat as I can, especially at Guntersville. It's a rough course and I knew I needed to be at my best in order to compete. I had some pretty tough heat draws but I still had a really solid weekend and that final was really fun. Obviously I'm a little disappointed I couldn't come out with the win but I'm really happy that I was able to keep the pressure on DJ all 5 laps, and 2nd place is a great start to the season."
One of the major surprises of the weekend was the willpower and consistency shown by Saxon Hopp in the U-100 Znetix. Hopp showcased some excellent driving skills during the prelims that notched him 1100 and the points lead entering the final. Exceeding everyone's expectations, including his own, Hopp couldn't be more excited to walk away from the 1st race of the season 2nd in national high points. "Honestly, it's a great feeling. I thought I didn't have a chance, was struggling during testing and qualifying trying to get the boat to settle down in the very unpredictable waters of Lake Guntersville. Race time came and things fell into place I am extremely happy with the results. Could of nailed the start a little bit better in the final, but a 3rd place I can't complain too much about that."
Missing the qualifying session on Friday, the missed time and points didn't seem to phase Tim Johnson in the U-50 Miss Tri-Cities as he put up a solid showing in the preliminary heats, grabbing 2 1st place finishes. He ultimately placed 4th in the final, but ended the season opener on a high note as he currently sits 3rd in season high points. A solid start to the season, Johnson will look to get more aggressive in the battle for lane positioning while staying cautious in order to bring the boat back to the dock in one piece. "I was really happy with the preliminary heats. I got pretty lucky that the guys I was racing against had some equipment failure that i was able to capitalize on. Really wish we could have done better in the final but happy that we were able to finish and get a good point total that puts us in a good spot to start the season. I think to continue this I need to work on getting better lane position and continue to keep the boat on the water. Really looking forward to Madison and looking to try and climb in the standings."
Racing in place for Eddie Kanfoush, Beau Rarig seemed to have just a little rust showing when he was piloting the defending champions boat. Rarig proved to be a force to be reckoned with early on with a 1D victory, but succumbed to the rough waters of Lake Guntersville in 2A as he blew the boat over. Rarig would rebound however with a 3C and consolation heat win, and ended up finishing 5th in the final. "My performance could've been better. I had a solid chance to place Eddie into the top 3 in points, but my rollover in Heat 2A put a stop to that. I guess I'm still rusty from last season. At any rate, the boat is one hell of a machine, and I imagine Eddie will do just fine driving it, and he'll surely be a contender for the high point championship."
Mickey Washburn in the Kramerica presents Miss Vandelay boasted a Bill Muncey like start on the outside as he held the lead all the way to the first turn. He would end up falling back to a 6th place finish as he had no real opportunity to move over to the inside lane as he never had overlap. Despite the 6th place finish, Washburn is in solid positioning on the season so far as he sits 5th in high points. With the level of competitiveness in this league, Washburn knows that you have to pick and choose your battles out on the race course. "We have such a competitive field of boats you have to race smart in the heat races and make sure you make it to the final. Then in the final crank her up hit the start and hope for some luck."
The race for the Southern Cup did not disappoint as race fans witnessed some of the most precise hydroplane drivers in the world battle deck to deck all weekend long. DJ Miller seems to be the early front runner for the SNHL Season 2 champion but it is by far too early to make assumptions with 5 more races to go on the schedule. Matt Johnson has a history with DJ Miller and their battles with each other on the water, so expect their rivalry to heat up at the season goes on. Saxon Hopp came out of nowhere and impressed everybody at Guntersville as he will look to continue to improve after an explosive start to his season. Tim Johnson also looked incredible in Guntersville as he will be a contender to watch out for during the season, and let's not forget that Eddie Kanfoush will be back in his own ride in Madison after Rarig successfully filled in for him. Much more action-packed racing to come from the SNHL as we look forward to the highly anticipated SNHL Gold Cup being held in Madison, Indiana November 15th and 16th!
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