KENNEWICK -- Unlimited hydroplane racing has had its share of controversy over the years, and Saturday's Lamb Weston Columbia Cup added to that legacy with another chapter of the soap opera called As the Turbine Turns.
Dave Villwock didn't know what he'd done wrong. Erick Ellstrom was seen yelling at the officials. Bob Hughes steamed. Referee Mike Noonan was taking heat from everyone. And Steve David thought he had the national points lead at the end of the day. But he didn't.
If you're going to leave Columbia Park early, you're going to miss a few mini-dramas.
For the record, David, driving the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto, and J.Michael Kelly in the U-7 Graham Trucking, were heat winners.
But this race's main event is the anticipated battle of David against Villwock in the U-16 Miss Elam Plus.
Villwock entered this weekend with a 267-point lead over David in the series race.
The Elam team spent much of Friday night trying to fix a wiring mess in the boat that Ellstrom had called "muddled muck." Most of the team was back at the hotel by midnight.
"We got together and things working this morning," said Ellstrom. "But to do it right, we need the boat back in the shop (in Ballard). We still had a short in the boat this morning."
Regardless, Villwock snared the top spot in qualifying with a speed of 163.223 mph Saturday morning. That gave him 100 more national points, compared to David's 80 for his second-place qualifying speed at 161.957.
The two teams drew the same heat later in the afternoon, and that's where the trouble began.
Villwock chose Lane 1 and David took Lane 2 in the pre-assigned format based on qualifying speed.
Villwock held the lead going into the first turn, but after he came out of the turn he was given a one-lap penalty.
"Dave chose to take Lane 1," said Noonan. "The rule is if you take the inside lane you can be no more than 10 feet off the buoy. Our ruling is Dave was off more than 10 feet. If you go into a turn in Lane 1, you must come out in Lane 1. We felt he came out in Lane 3. We gave him a one-lap penalty because we felt it affected the race."
With David knowing that Villwock had been penalized, he eased off and took the first-place finish and the requisite 400 points that came with it. At that point, David had overtaken Villwock in the points race.
Ellstrom and Villwock took turns pleading their case to Noonan about an hour after the race.
"I didn't do anything as far as I can tell," said Villwock.
But Noonan's call held up.
"We're back to being the national champs," said David after the heat win. "Lord, that was cool."
Not so fast, Steve.
Because Ellstrom and Villwock protested the call after the race, ABRA officials reviewed the tape. And they found on the tape that David had slipped up before the race.
"Coming around before the start, the U-1 had chosen to start in Lane 2," said Noonan. "Steve encroached on the next lane when he slid out on the turn. He looked in the mirror and saw where he was and shot back into his lane. We gave him a monetary penalty and took 150 national points from him."
Noonan told David about the penalty about an hour after the race, and suddenly Villwock was back in the points lead -- 3,574 to 3,440.
At various times, Madison representative Hughes, then crew chief Mike Hanson, came over to talk to Noonan about his ruling against Oberto.
Jeff Bernard, driving the U-5 Formulaboats.com, finished second in the heat.
"I was leading them into the first turn," said Bernard. "And I pulled them with me. I'd figured I'd get at least third."
The other race was uneventful, as Kelly led the parade around the river for three laps to take the win.
"We couldn't ask for anything better right now," said Kelly. "We just need to keep the boat out of trouble."
Jimmy King in the U-3 Sun River Electric presents Grandview on the Lake barely pulled past Nate Brown in the U-17 West Pasco Family Dental for second place and 300 points.
"I don't think I beat Nate by much," said King. "The boat was good, but I'd like to find a little more power."
Racing resumes today with Heat 2A starting at 11:30 a.m.