By Jeff Morrow
Special to the Tri-City Herald
It’s called boat-race drama. But Ed Cooper has a better phrase for it.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” said the owner of the U-3 Griggs presents Miss Ace Hardware.
Whatever it was, Sunday’s HAPO Columbia Cup final had so much controversy in it that it left a bad taste in a lot of mouths.
Even the winner, J. Michael Kelly, driver of the U-5 Graham Trucking, felt bittersweet.
“I know what’s it like when you thought you had won, and then you didn’t,” said Kelly, who was talking about his good friend, U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank driver Jimmy Shane.
It all began in the seven-boat final that was about to focus on Shane, Jean Theoret and the U-16 Oh Boy! Oberto, and Kelly.
Over 40,000 fans lined the banks of the Columbia River looking for those three to dominate.
What they got was an early mess in the milling period — the lead-up to the race — in which all seven drivers were given a warning of going under the 80 mph minimum as the drivers tried to jockey for position.
What they got next, though, was a neck-and-neck battle out front between Shane and Theoret. Kelly got a late start to the party and was back in third.
But near the end of lap 2 in the five-lap final, Shane and Theoret collided coming out of Turn 4 at the west end of the course. The collision damaged Shane’s right side of the boat, while the left side of the Oberto was banged up.
“It was a jolt,” Shane said after the race. “Both Jean and I were going through the corner. I knew it was
going to be tight. But his boat just darted in. He didn’t do it on purpose. In think he hit a roller. But boy did we hit hard.”
Yet both drivers were able to continue on battling for the lead.
One lap later, H1 Unlimited officials called a one-lap penalty on Theoret, giving Shane the lead for good.
Shane never trailed again. But Kelly kept pushing and passed Theoret, who took the foot off the gas a bit when he realized he had to run an extra lap.
Shane brought the boat in, and the HomeStreet Bank team began to celebrate.
Uh, not so fast.
Erick Ellstrom, the team manager for the Oberto, wanted to see the video after the race.
“If we had a fender (lead) on Shane, we had the right of way,” said Ellstrom.
He saw H1 Unlimited chairman Steve David 100 yards up the road and went to him to plead his case. But David and his officials were way ahead of Ellstrom. They had already made the decision to check the video.
After reviewing the footage, officials determined that it was Shane, not Theoret, who had left his lane and caused the collision.
“It appears Jimmy didn’t fully make an arc in the turn and hit Jean,” said H1 chairman Steve David. “It was a very close call.”
The GoPro video on the back of the Oberto boat was especially telling, as it showed the U-1 coming out as Oberto held its lane.
Shane was assessed a one-lap penalty and dropped to last place. He was not happy.
“I’ve had better days,” Shane said. “I’m more upset for the team and our sponsor to have to go through this.”
Charlie Grooms, the Miss Madison team owner representative and team manager, and U-1 crew chief Dan Hoover came into the media trailer with H1 officials to look at different video angles of the incident. They were adamant that Shane had done nothing wrong, but H1 officials stood by their decision.
“It’s very tough to understand what happened,” said Shane. “I’m having a very hard time going with the video evidence. I know they have to make tough calls sometimes. And I usually agree with them. But this is one of those times that I can’t agree with their call.”
Ellstrom broke the news to his team after the decision. “Guys, they penalized Shane,” said Ellstrom, all smiles. “We got second.”
He found Theoret, who had been pretty despondent about the earlier finish. “Jean, you didn’t hit a hole,” said Ellstrom. “He hit you. We finished second!”
“Thank you, thank you,” Theoret said, nodding his head.
Ellstrom felt better after the decision. “But it’s unfortunate to get two boats and two great race teams who are dominant, and at 200 mph they touch,” Ellstrom said. “What a race.”
Theoret said he had felt pretty sad when he came into the pits, so this was a little vindication.
But then he thought about what could have been.
“I thought I had left (Jimmy) room,” Theoret said. “But then I got the (penalty) call, and I let him go. Had I known, I wouldn’t have let up.”
Kelly wasn’t really happy either. “I mean, I’m glad we won,” Kelly said. “But I want to come and stand on my boat and celebrate.”
He didn’t get to do that.
Jimmy King drove the U-3 to a third-place finish for the piston-powered boat.
“It’s good to be lucky sometimes,” said King, who started the final in lane 1 but couldn’t keep the position for long. “I knew I didn’t have anything for those guys ahead of me.”
Cooper was elated with third.
“We started off losing two (of the team’s four) engines this weekend,” Cooper said. “So yeah, I’m ecstatic.”
OK. And maybe U-5 team owner Ted Porter was completely happy.
“Wow! I don’t know if crazier things have happened,” Porter said. “We’ve been racing hard all weekend. And this team has worked really hard. It’s just been crazy here.”
But Ellstrom also gave props to Kelly, who stayed out of trouble all weekend.
“Sometimes, it’s the guy who drives the cleanest who gets it done,” he said.
U-5 Graham Trucking, J. Michael Kelly; 2. U-16 Oh Boy! Oberto, Jean Theoret; 3. U-3 Grigg’s presents Miss Ace Hardware, Jimmy King; 4. U-21 Darrell Strong presents PayneWest Insurance, Brian Perkins; 5. GBR-11 Peters & May, Tom Thompson; 6. U-7 Graham Trucking, Jeff Bernard; 7. U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank, Jimmy Shane.
Read more here: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/sports/other-sports/hydro-racing/article92997667.html#storylink=cpy