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Jimmy Shane - Seafair Cup
Jimmy Shane hoists the Seafair Cup after his hydroplane victory today. (GeekWire photo/Kevin Lisota)

Jimmy Shane piloted the Miss HomeStreet hydroplane to a victory in the Seafair Cup today in Seattle. Now he’ll head back to his day job: building rockets at Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Shane’s Seafair Cup win didn’t come easy: In a thrilling final heat, Shane was passed by Andrew Tate in the Les Schwab boat on the final lap, but Tate was penalized for hitting a buoy earlier in the race. As a result, the cup was awarded to Shane and the HomeStreet team.

Miss HomeStreet hydroplane
Miss HomeStreet hydroplane piloted by Jimmy Shane. (GeekWire photo/Kevin Lisota)

Rocket science doesn’t come easy, either. After today’s finish, GeekWire caught up with Shane to learn more about how one of the world’s top hydroplane racers found himself working at a rocket factory in Kent, Wash.

“I met my wife racing in the Middle East, in Qatar,” Shane said. “She was from Sammamish, Washington, and I was from around Baltimore, Maryland. We met in Qatar, fell in love … ended up dating and ended up moving out to Seattle with a kid, and I had to find a job out in Seattle. So, I saw this company Blue Origin and it looked like it was something I could do. I applied, and it has been a wonderful, wonderful ride. I’ve been there just about four years now.”

Growing up, Shane was fascinated with building race boats and going fast. He taught himself about composite technology and started building boats out of carbon fiber. He credits that knowledge for getting him a job at the rocket maker.

“I actually got my job at Blue Origin due to my background in hydroplane racing,” said Shane.

Jimmy Shane in the blue-and-white U-1 Miss HomeStreet hydro races neck-and-neck with Andrew Tate in the U-9 Les Schwab boat, which is painted red, yellow and white. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Shane is an integration engineer in the Blue Origin factory. He helps build and assemble the crew capsule that people are going to ride in when they take suborbital trips to space, starting as early as next year.

“We have some of the smartest people at Blue Origin, and I’m just fortunate that I get to work with them and learn from them,” said Shane. “I get to build something cool for a great guy in Jeff Bezos. He’s got some of the most ambitious plans I’ve ever seen, and I’m just lucky to be apart of it.”

GeekWire’s Alan Boyle and I got an early look at some of Shane’s out-of-this-world handiwork when we toured a mockup of the Blue Origin crew capsule in Colorado Springs earlier this year.

Shane caught the attention of his co-workers and Bezos this week when he took the Miss HomeStreet hydroplane down to Blue Origin and fired up the engine in the parking lot. He said that many of his co-workers were either new to Seattle or unfamiliar with boat racing, but the boat demo may have created some new fans.

“I think I got a lot of them hooked on boat racing,” Shane said with a grin.

The HomeStreet team also adorned the boat with Blue Origin’s trademark feather in honor of Shane’s local appearance at Seafair.

And another Blue Origin feather was emblazoned on Shane’s helmet this week.

The fastest that Shane has gone in a hydroplane is 209 mph, but he’s clearly got his eyes on something faster.

“I would absolutely, hands-down, go to space. Whenever they’re ready for me, I want to take a ride up to space,” he said. “That’s what I’m there to do. We have to be confident in what we’re building, and I would fly in a heartbeat if I ever had that opportunity.”

You can also see more photos from the 2017 Seafair Hydroplane Races.

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