KENNEWICK -- Whenever possible, I think it's a good idea to start at the top. At least that was my game plan back in 1974 making plans for my first unlimited hydroplane race on the Columbia River.
It was called the World Championship that season.
Actually, there were things about unlimited racing that took me several years to get straight.
The first thing is that the unlimiteds are like touch football in the streets.
You know, the passer instructs his hopeful receiver, "Go down to the Chevy parked on the right hand of the street, turn left and I'll get the ball to you."
Part of it can be attributed to nature.
They race on so many venues -- rivers, lakes, oceans, etc., that they almost have to ad-lib some of the rules.
The other thing is that if you want to add a little prestige to your race, all you have to do is add a tad to the prize purse.
Take those World Championships, for example.
I don't recall any boats from faraway places with strange sounding names showing up.
It was like Claude Rains in Casablanca saying, "Round up the usual suspects."
Distance is what determined who showed up ready to run.
Boat owners in the East went to races in their locality, as did Western boat owners.
But by adding stature to a race it seemed to help draw a bigger gate.
And that's the name of the game.
Anyway, the World Championships proceeded without a hitch.
They did, that is, until the final heat.
Bill Muncey in the Atlas Van Lines hadn't qualified for the final heat but was an alternate.
That meant that if any of the six boats that had qualified weren't ready to the start, he could step in.
Muncey claimed that with ninty seconds to go, he saw driver Ron Armstrong of the Valu Mart standing on the deck of his boat.
Figuring that Armstrong was out, Muncey thought he had a green light and took his place along with the other six boats.
Armstrong, however, wasn't out.
That meant there were seven boats for a field that was meant to be limited to six.
The ultimate winner of the race, George Henley in Dave Heerensperger's Pay 'n Pak, jumped out to an early lead.
That left the remaining six boats to hit the first turn at the same time.
In the resulting melee, the U-95 -- the first-ever turbine boat and driven by Leif Borgersen -- had its stern chewed off.
The race referee fined Muncey $200 but left the owners of the U-95 very unhappy.
"Muncey," they pointed out, "gets fined $200 and it will cost us $45,000 to fix the damage. What's fair about that?"
As a result, the controversy raged up and down the pits area for about an hour.
Actually, the next race on Lake Washington saw the U-95 blow a turbine and sink off of Sand Point.
It was later recovered, sold and renovated with a conventional Allison engine.
Through it all, Muncey took the role of an interested spectator.
It was his contention that while everyone else blamed him for the crowded conditions in the first turn, it was actually Armstrong who caused the collision by going from the fifth lane to the inside.
In fact, his biggest concern was his reaction to the intrusion of Herald reporter Jini Dalen.
"Lady," he said, "do you mind while I change my clothes?"
The rhubarb that had prevailed, I discovered, was just par for the course.
Like I said, it took me a little time to catch on.
* Hec Hancock is the former sports editor of the Tri-City Herald and periodically writes columns.