One of the best final heats of unlimited hydroplane racing was overshadowed by a penalty Sunday at the Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair.
J. Michael Kelly in the Graham Trucking boat and Jimmy Shane in the Oberto boat battled nearly deck to deck for five laps on Lake Washington.
In the final turn of the final lap, Shane, who was chasing Kelly the whole race, finally overcame the slight deficit and took the checkered flag. He headed to the docks thinking he had won in Oberto’s final race in Seattle.
“I’ve never seen anything better than that,” said Chip Hanauer, a legendary driver turned analyst.
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When Shane returned to the docks he learned about the encroachment penalty he was assessed on the first turn of the final lap.
“They said I pinched him a little too tight,” Shane said. “I really don’t agree with it. I felt it was just good, tight racing.”
Chief referee Brian Hajny said the Oberto headed into the first turn and didn’t maintain the 10 feet required between boats. The Oberto and the Graham had a slight collision before both recovered and continued the final lap.
“The (U-1) turned just a little bit early,” Hajny said.
Shane was given a one-minute penalty, which meant the Oberto finished the seven-boat final in sixth place.
Kelly was battling a broken rear wing, which is crucial for handling the boat, over the last lap.
“Next thing I know I get a window full of Oberto and get smacked pretty good,” Kelly said. “Lost a ton of momentum.”
The win gave Graham its third consecutive win at Seafair.
Kelly drove the boat to a title last year in another controversial race. He had to wait about 20 minutes after the race, sweating out if he was going to get a penalty for cutting off Shane in the final lap.
Officials took their time before ruling it was a clean heat.
Shane drove Graham Trucking to a win in 2013, his last year with the team before moving to the Oberto.
This one will be remembered by hydroplane racing fans for years — penalty or no.
Jesse Robertson in the Graham Trucking II grabbed the inside lane, but found himself too far ahead of the pack and received a lap penalty for jumping the gun (he would finish seventh).
Kelly took the second lane and Oberto settled into the third. Jean Theoret, who was the top qualifier in the Ellstrom Elam Plus, became an afterthought way out in lane four.
Kelly and Shane were stuck to each other for five laps.
“I”m wore out,” Kelly said. “I was breathing dang hard out there all five laps. He didn’t give up and I couldn’t give up — so it was all out.”
“It was a great weekend for Oberto,” said Shane, who heads into the final two series races with a lead in the national high points championship. “We showed we’re the boat to beat. We beat them from the outside. We found our speed back this week.”
Oberto was hoping for a win as it was the sponsor’s last appearance at Seafair. Oh Boy! Oberto announced it would not be sponsoring a hydroplane next season.
“(The penalty) definitely takes a little bit from everything,” Shane said.
Shane also claimed that a lap penalty should have been assessed on Kelly for shutting down his boat in the warm-up period, trying to keep his position on an inside lane (which offers the shortest route around the course).
Boats are not allowed to go under 80 mph during the five-minute warm-up, during which drivers jockey for the inside position.
But despite the penalties, there was still that final that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Probably one of the best races I’ve ever seen,” Shane said. “I think it was a dream race for the fans.”