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A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

August 9, 2014 at 12:59 AM

Hydro controversy? Why there was no start penalty in Seafair’s final

Oberto shows damaged it sustained during the Albert Lee Appliance Cup final at Seafair on Sunday.  Madeleine Meyer / Seattle Times staff

Oberto shows damaged it sustained during the Albert Lee Appliance Cup final at Seafair on Sunday.
Madeleine Meyer / Seattle Times staff

When I returned from being out of town last weekend, my phone and email included several messages from readers with the same question: Why wasn’t a penalty assessed in the Albert Lee Appliance Cup unlimited hydroplane final at Seafair on Sunday? And why the heck wasn’t it mentioned in our stories?

I’ve finally got an answer, but first a little background.

Apparently, KIRO-TV’s coverage of the race raised the issue after replays appeared to show that two or three boats, including eventual winner J. Michael Kelly in Graham Trucking, crossed the starting line before the clock hit zero. If true, a one-lap penalty should have been assessed. Chip Hanauer, one of the sports greatest drivers and now a KIRO-TV commentator, said he thought three boats jumped the starting line. That would have given Jon Zimmerman, driving Les Schwab Tires/Team RedDOT, the victory. KIRO replayed the start again and again, and they appeared to show a problem at the start. Here’s KIRO-TV video of the race to watch.

Indeed, a winner wasn’t declared for more than 15  minutes while H1 officials reviewed the race. Yet no start penalty was assessed, and the start were never addressed again on TV or in our stories after the race. Readers were understandably perplexed.

J. Michael Kelly waited for 30 his Oberto boat didn't win.  Madeleine Meyer / Seattle Times staff

J. Michael Kelly’s Graham Trucking was declared the winner.  Madeleine Meyer / Seattle Times staff

It turns out judges were reviewing a different possible penalty. A move later in the race by Graham Trucking forced favored Oberto’s Jimmy Shane wide. Oberto was washed down by Graham Trucking’s roostertail, sustaining damage and finishing third. No penalty was handed down for that either, after it was determined that Kelly switched lanes properly.

Reporters, including ours, watched the race live, not on TV, so they weren’t aware of the issues raised by commentators. Here’s our story from Sunday’s race, which focused on the Kelly-Shane issues.

So I asked Ashley Scobey, our reporter covering the race to find out what happened. H1 contends that the clock KIRO showed on replays may have been slightly out of synch.

Here is the statement by H1 spokesman Steve Montgomery emailed to Scobey said: “We have figured out that the digital clock KIRO-TV used to show the countdown was 1/5 of a second behind the official time. Since it took a feed from the official timer, we’re not sure why. Could be as simple as the electronics in the digital clock taking that long to display the number.”

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