In a rare mid-season change of drivers, Unlimited Racing Group, owner of the U-11 ‘J&D’s presented by Reliable Diamond Tool,’ announced Friday that they have replaced their driver Tom Thompson after eight years with the team.
Jamie Nilsen, a long-time Pacific Northwest boat racer who began racing outboard powered hydroplanes at the age of 12-years-old and current Grand Prix World hydroplane driver, will take over as the team’s new driver.
The 34-year-old Nilsen broke into the ranks of the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series in 2013 when he drove the U-48 “Snoqualmie Casino” in the Albert Lee Cup in Seattle and continued in 2014 driving the U-21 “Lakeridge Paving” for two races.
Although Nilsen has not driven an H1 Unlimited hydroplane since, he has been racing in the smaller, automotive-powered Grand Prix World class hydroplanes, which he intends to continue to race when not in the world’s fastest race boats, H1 Unlimited hydroplanes. Nilsen, a financial analyst for the U.S. Navy in Bremerton, Washington said, “I am ready to rock, I am honored to be driving for the Raneys. Tom left some really big shoes to fill.”
Nilsen will have to re-qualify for his H1 Unlimited hydroplane driver’s license at his first race in Tri-City, Washington, July 26-28, 2019.
He will be required to make 15 laps on the 2-1/2 mile course, with ten of those laps over 130 m.p.h. and start two preliminary heat races on the outside. “Our team goals are to get me re-qualified and to get comfortable in the race boat,”
Nilsen said. “We will slowly increase our performance as we go and despite having to requalify as a driver we will find a way to get in the final at Tri-Cities.”
Nilsen, a resident of Gig Harbor, Washington has been an athlete all his life. A stand-out baseball player in high school and in college at Central Washington University, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Royals in 2008 and played a season in Rookie Ball for the organization before giving up the baseball dream to concentrate on boat racing. Without an H1 Unlimited hydroplane ride since the later part of 2014 season, Nilsen has been honing his driving skills driving the GP-55 GPW hydroplane and has won four races in that class.
Scott Pierce, retired H1 Unlimited hydroplane driver and owner of Nilsen’s GPW hydro said, “I am very confident that Jamie can handle the double duty.
I believe Jamie is a unique talent, and I am very proud how he has progressed in is driving.”
Ironically, the last mid-season driver change in the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series came when Thompson replaced J.W. Myers in 2012 with the Unlimited Racing Group team.
Thompson’s best season was 2018 when he won his first preliminary heat race and followed the win with two other heat wins that season.
He ended the year in third place in the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series national high points championship. His best championship final came at the San Diego Bayfair race in 2013 where he placed second in the U-11 “Peters & May.”
A statement on the team’s web site said, “The entire U-11 team would like to sincerely thank Tom Thompson and his family for the years of hard work and dedication he spent racing for us.”
Scott Raney, co-owner and crew chief said the team would not be making any further comments regarding their driver change. Thompson, a resident of Cambridge, Maryland, issued a statement thanking the Raneys, owners of the team and his former crew.
“I can not thank the team enough for all the hard work for always having the boat ready and safe,” Thompson said. Thompson said he did not quit and still has a desire to drive an H1 Unlimited hydroplane but was told he was let go and “was being replaced for financial reasons and improved results.”
Thompson who races in other powerboat racing classes said, “As owners, you have to make decisions to improve your team.”
The always competitive and gritty driver ended his comments by thanking his fans, friends for all their support through the years and wished the team’s new driver Nilsen good luck. Thompson told fans, “Maybe you will get to cheer me on again some day.”