2008 San Diego Bayfair
Bernard Leapfrogs to Controversial San Diego Win:
A National Championship For Oberto
By Mac Clouse with Niles Mayfield
Coming into the San Diego Bayfair Powered by the Union Tribune, Steve David and Oh Boy! Oberto had a 1,023 point lead over Jeff Bernard and Formula for the National High Point Championship. Even if Bernard won all four heats, he would need some bad finishes by David to overcome the deficit. Bernard did win his four heats, including a controversial final heat, but the 700 points earned by David in the first two heats clinched the National High Points Championship. For the first time in its 47-year history of hydroplane racing, the city of Madison’s entry will be U-1 next year. For David, it was his third straight Driver’s Championship. With his Bayfair win, Bernard became the only two-race winner for the 2008 season.
Nine boats were there to compete. The Ellstroms had not planned on being in San Diego, possibly to be sure that their boat would be ready for the early December exhibition races in the Middle East. About a week before Bayfair, the exhibition races were postponed until 2009. Some people hoped that this would mean that Ellstrom would be in San Diego, but the orange boat was not. The Gregory’s U-10 was also absent, but that was not a surprise.
Formula II and Mike Allen were experiencing deja vu. Just like last year in San Diego, a newly-repaired U-7 and a newly-recovered Allen were in the pits for their first appearances since the flip in Detroit. The boat came directly from Fred Leland’s shop where Jim Harvey had worked on and coordinated the repair effort; it was all red with no decals and no hardware inside.
Friday had three rounds of qualifying. In the 9 a.m. session, only three boats were on the water. Oberto did a 156.214. “We were real low on N2. The salt makes the prop slow down. We’ll go out later with a different engine/gearbox combination,” said David. Miss Beacon Plumbing’s 161.402 and Formula’s 163.371 were both eliminated due to N2 violations.
The 11:30 session saw five boats on the water; there was now a 12-mph wind blowing across the course from the backstretch. Formula set the top mark with a 158.612. “I love this course,” said Bernard. “It’s awesome every time I run. The water on the backstretch was okay, but the front stretch was a little choppy.”
Beacon had the second fastest speed at 158.083. Jean Theoret thought he could do better. “We’re trying some new combinations. The water is sticky, and there are rollers at the start line.”
The other qualifiers were Graham Trucking (J. Michael Kelly) at 155.432, Hoss Mortgage (Jimmy King) at 155.084, and Superior Racing (Ken Muscatel) at 148.743. King was pleased. “We think we solved the problems. We have three complete engines. We went out, went fast, and came back. So we ’re happy with our first outing.” The day’s final session saw the appearance of the remaining three boats. Spirit of the Navy (Brian Perkins) did 144.671. With only one engine, the Navy team wanted to be conservative. Mirageboats (Greg Hopp) entered the course, but returned to the pits without completing a lap; the fuel shut-off wasn’t adjusted properly, and it was restricting the fuel flow.
The fastest speed of the session was the 155.483 of Formula II. Allen was happy to be back. “This is unbelievable. The boat got here yesterday with nothing in it. In less than 24 hours, the entire Formula team put the boat together, and we did a 155. The only thing that didn’t work was the radio. I really didn’t know how well I was doing. I might have done another lap if I’d known everything was okay. As for me, I’m good; the ribs and the knee are fine.” Allen needs surgery on his right knee; it will happen now that the San Diego race is over.
On Saturday, the water was flat with no wind for the 9 a.m. session. Oberto set the speed that would be the weekend’s fastest, 161.406. “This was still a conservative run. The water was perfect, and I didn’t fly the boat much. Our goal is to get the points we need for the National Championship,” said David.
Mirageboats went out in each of Saturday’s two morning sessions, but each time blew an engine in turn 1 its first lap. “We’re using a different hull this weekend”, said Hopp. Our qualifying speeds have decreased by 10 mph. Our motors have been good, but the boat hasn’t been. This boat doesn’t have the full front wing; it just has the flaps, but we think we’ll be better overall. The problem we are having now is we think the engine cowling is letting too much salt in. For this afternoon’s heat, we’ll use the different cowling we brought with us.” With no qualifying speed, Mirageboats would join the field with a Commissioner’s Option.
In 1A, Beacon slowly crossed the start line at the 2:00 mark and slowly moved through turn 1 in lane 1. Moving towards the one-minute score up buoy, Formula was back in lane 2, the U-25 in 3, Graham in 4, and Mirageboats in 5. As the one-minute gun sounded, Bernard leapfrogged Theoret and moved into lane 1 when he had the seven-boat length overlap. Theoret moved out to lane 2 and Graham moved out to lane 3. The U-25 got wet and died on the backstretch; Muscatel restarted but trailed the field. Mirageboats was in lane 4.
Formula and Mirageboats crossed the start line first. Mirageboats died in turn 1 due to a broken gearbox. Bernard exited the turn first and led Theoret by a roostertail at the end of lap 1. Graham was in third, but its engine was sputtering and popping.
Muscatel passed Kelly entering lap 2. Bernard stretched his lead to win by two roostertails over Theoret. Muscatel was third, and somehow Kelly’s engine lasted the whole heat he finished fourth. After the heat, it was announced that Theoret had been fined $100 for encroaching in the backstretch prior to the start.
Bernard commented on his leapfrog move. “It is something I learned from driving inboards in Region 10. When someone is going slow at the one-minute buoy, he is a sitting duck. This time it worked for me, but I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had it done to me. The boat is perfect. This race should be just as competitive as it was last year.”
Kelly was disappointed. “The engine was popping when I tested earlier. We thought it was a bleed bland problem. Our best engine is in the truck. I want to use our best stuff all the time to be competitive in the heats, as well as the final.”
Graham owner Dave Bartush knew what the problem was.
“Our engine was all salted up. We thought it was a different problem, but when we got inside the engine, it was all salt. The first time this engine was in the boat was yesterday. It just doesn’t take much time on this course to have the problems with the salt.”
Muscatel explained what happened to him. “After Bernard leapfrogged him, Theoret moved out through Formula’s roostertail. That forced Kelly to have to move out. I was left with no lane, no room, and took lots of water.” When asked how close Graham came to hitting him, Muscatel said “It was hose-me-down close.” When asked what he would do in future heats to avoid the leapfrog, Theoret said “I’ll stick to my game plan and see what Steve, Jeff, and the others will be doing.”
In 1B, Formula II and Oberto crossed the start line at the 1:45 mark and moved slowly into turn 1; Allen had lane 1. Hoss took lane 3 and Navy was in lane 4. Oberto crossed the start line first and led Hoss by half a roostertail up the backstretch; Formula II was two boat lengths behind Hoss. Navy was in fourth.
David stretched his lead to a roostertail over King in lap 2; he had also moved in to lane 1. Allen was two roostertails behind King, with Perkins in fourth. Hoss challenged on lap 3, but Oberto won by a roostertail. Formula II was third, with Navy fourth.
David’s win put him even closer to the National Championship. “I actually was being conservative. Formula II was on my inside, but I thought I had more speed than him and I thought I could beat Hoss if I had him on my hip. We only need to finish in 2A to clinch the National Championship,but we still want to finish high.” King was pleased with second place. “The boat ran well with no problems. The inside lane made the difference for Oberto.”
Allen didn’t know what happened to his boat. “The computer data was not the same as it was when we qualified. I don’t know why, because we thought this was our best combination. We’re going to change the gearbox, move down a gear to pick up some rpm’s. There has been a lot of work done in two days by lots of people, but I’m impatient. I want to win now.”
In 2A, the two Formula boats stayed side-by-side for most of the milling period. They entered turn 1 together before the start with U-7 in lane 1 and U-5 in lane 2. Mirageboats took lane 3, with Hoss in lane 4. The U-25 died in turn 1 before the start. Muscatel restarted but trailed the field.
Bernard was first across the start line and to the turn. He and Allen were side-by-side down the backstretch with Jimmy King close on the outside. Greg Hopp was in fourth. The U-25 died in the first turn of lap 1 due to a drive line failure. At the end of lap 1, Formula had a half roostertail lead over Formula II and Hoss, who were side-by-side.
In lap 2, Bernard stretched his lead to a roostertail over his teammate Allen. Hoss sputtered to stop near the finish of its second lap. Hopp trailed, now in third. The heat ended with Bernard ahead of Allen by half a roostertail. Hopp got third.
Bernard was looking ahead to heat 3. “We got another good 400 points. We want to draw Beacon in the next heat and beat him. We’re 24 points ahead of them in the National Championship, and we would like to stay ahead of them and finish second.”
Allen’s boat performed better. “The gearbox change caused us to run better on the top end. Jeff and I both wanted lane 1. It is nice to have a teammate next to you. We made sure we gave each other room.”
Jimmy explained his sputtering stop. “The engine started cutting out so I shut it down. All the parts are still there and okay. I think it might be a fuel issue.”
Any finish position in 2B would give Oberto the National Championship. Beacon crossed the start line at the 2:30 mark to move into lane 1. David did not challenge for the inside and took lane 2. Hoss was in lane 3, with Navy in lane 4.
Beacon was first to turn 1, but Oberto was even as the boats entered turn 2. The inside lane enabled Theoret to lead David by half a roostertail at the end of lap 1. Kelly was a half a roostertail behind David, with Perkins in fourth.
Theoret kept the same lead in lap 2, but in lap 3, David pulled even with him in the backstretch. Again, the inside lane enabled Theoret to pull away to win by half a roostertail. Kelly was two roostertails behind David to get third; Perkins was fourth.
Oberto’s 300 points clinched the National Championship. Steve did a victory lap close to the shore. When he returned to the pits, all his crew was on the dock. He was greeted with cheers and a big blast of bio-degradable confetti from a confetti launcher. He and his boat were completely covered. David responded by standing on the boat’s air scoop and dancing for the crowd.
When asked how it felt to be the National Champion, David responded with a big “Oh Boy!” Then he added, “This is bigger than winning a single race. Any boat can win a race; but at the end of the season, only one boat ends up as U-1. Our goal now is to win the final. We have to figure out our strategy for the next heat.” Theoret was happy to win, but he was also surprised. “Steve didn’t try too hard to get lane 1, but he raced hard. He raced harder than I thought they might since he didn’t need to get 400 points. Our boat ran well, but we are saving our good stuff for the final.”
Three boats started 3A. The U-25 stayed on the trailer as the crew worked on the driveline problem. Formula II had trouble starting. It started just prior to the one-minute gun, but since it wasn’t on the race course, the officials told Allen to return to the pits. Beacon took lane 1 with no challenge. Navy took lane 3, with Mirageboats in lane 5.
Theoret won easily, finishing one quarter of a lap ahead of Perkins. Mirageboats was compressor stalling and finally died in the backstretch of lap 2.
Formula boats owner Ted Porter explained the problem with Formula II. “It was an electrical issue. In the last heat, we got salt in our control box. We put a new box in, but it took a while for it to spool. We hoped that the officials might give us a little extra time to get ready for the start of the heat, but they didn’t. It looks like we’ll still be in the Final, so things are okay.”
Hopp explained the blown engine that stopped him. “We took out the engine that ran well in heat 2 to save it for the final. We thought this one would make it through heat 3, but it obviously didn’t.”
In 3B, 5 Formula and Oberto were side-by-side in turn 1 in lanes 1 and 2. Graham was in lane 3. Hoss returned to the pits prior to the start.
Formula and Oberto crossed the start line together. Bernard had a two-boat length lead as they entered turn 2 and used the inside lane to lead David by three-fourths of a roostertail at the end of lap 1. Kelly was behind in third.
From this point, the drivers were just content to finish and save the racing for the final. Bernard finished two roostertails ahead of David, with Kelly behind in third.
Unfortunately, problems with Hoss had not been solved. “We have a miss in the motor,” said King. “It doesn’t show up until I put my foot in it. Until we find out what is wrong, we don’t want to take a chance on losing another engine.”
The six boats for the front line in the final would be Formula, Beacon Plumbing, Oberto, Navy, Graham Trucking, and Formula II.
The U-25 and Hoss agreed to be in the Provisional. Mirageboats declined the invite due to a lack of equipment. The U-25 was on the course alone at the one minute gun. The officials chose to give Muscatel simultaneous green and checkered flags. As Muscatel crossed the start/finish line, Hoss roared on to the course. As King crossed the start line, he got a black flag.
Muscatel drove as though he was going to complete a lap, but as he entered turn 2, the boat hooked violently to the left and veered through the inside of the turn. Muscatel was okay, but the boat lost the bottom of the right sponson and had damage to both rear shoes. It could not be in the final. Hoss was invited to be the trailer, but given its unknown problems, owner Ed Cooper declined. There would be no trailer in the final.
At the 2:13 mark, Oberto and Beacon crossed the start line to move slowly into first turn in lanes 1 and 2. Graham, in lane 3, sped up in the turn to join them. Formula was back in lane 4, with Formula II in 5 and Navy in 6. As Oberto and Beacon came out of the turn after the one-minute gun, Bernard, who kept his speed up through the turn, sped by them. He crossed in front of Beacon and then in front of Oberto. David sped up to keep lane 1, but Bernard pulled in front of him and slowed down. Beacon was back in lane 3, when Kelly sped up and pulled in front of him, forcing him to turn right and look for a lane. David was forced to the inside of the course and hit a buoy. He moved back onto the course and forced his way back into lane 1.
As the boats entered turn 2, it was Oberto in lane 1, Formula in lane 2, Graham in 3, Formula II in 5, and Navy in 6. Theoret was behind the field, but he found lane 4 open and moved to it. The boats then began the run to the start with Beacon and Formula II a bit behind the field. Although videos of the backstretch events may have suggested otherwise, the ABRA official in the helicopter did not call Bernard or Kelly for not having the necessary overlap before pulling in front of another boat.
David led the field across the start with Navy, Graham, and Formula close behind. Beacon and Formula II followed. David was first to the turn, and led the field up the backstretch. Entering turn 2, David led Bernard by half a roostertail, with Kelly two boat-lengths behind Bernard. The inside lanes were critical; at the end of the lap, David led Bernard by one roostertail and Bernard had a one roostertail lead over Kelly. Beacon was in fourth, Formula II in fifth, and Navy sixth.
The order remained the same for the rest of the race, as did the spacing, about two roostertails between each boat. In lap 3, ABRA’s new violation flag appeared at the start line and in the official boat in each corner. The announcement over the PA system was that some boats had jumped the gun. During lap 4, it was announced that Beacon was the only boat not to jump. At the end of lap 5, Theoret received the checkered flag; the other five boats were shown the white flag and they all did an extra lap.
Fans who could not hear the PA system probably thought that Oberto won the race. Fans who heard the PA system thought Beacon won. As the boats returned to the pits, it was announced that Formula II was also a legal starter, but the status of the remaining four boats was under review. Since the final results were uncertain, all six boats were impounded. Crews were told to put the boats on the trailer and then leave them alone so the winning boat could be inspected. At this point in time, the finish appeared to be Beacon, Formula II, Oberto, Formula, Graham, and Navy.
The final ended at about 5:30p.m. At 6:00, the boat teams were told to report to the award stage and that trophies would be given based on the unofficial results. The only team to showup was the Beacon team. Trophies were given to the heat winners, the Oberto team was recognized for its National Championship, and Matt Gregory thanked the audience for all their support for his family. Then Mark Allen and Steve Montgomery, the PA announcers, stalled for time. Finally, at 6:50, the official results were announced. The video replay of the start had shown that Bernard had not jumped the gun; David, Kelly, and Perkins did.
Thus, once again, Bernard did a leapfrog move. From his fourth place finish, he leapfrogged to first, with Beacon, Formula II, and Oberto each moving down one position. The ruling was controversial and David and Theoret were very upset.
“Formula did not have a seven boat length lead when he pulled in front of me,” said David. “I was either going to hit him or a buoy so I hit the buoy. Then I just kept going and got lane 1 back, but having to do all that messed up my timing, which resulted in my jumping the gun, which cost me the race.” When he was called to the stage to receive his fourth place trophy, he said “Since I’m getting this trophy, it means the officials have overturned the original results. If Beacon is not the winner, this [is really bad].”
Theoret said, “I was in lane 2 in the backstretch when U-5 and U-13 leapfrogged me. It’s not clear whether they had the required overlap. After their moves, I had no lane. I was late and in lane 4, which took me out of the competition.” When he was given his second place trophy, he said “Once again, they (the ABRA officials) have made a wrong decision.”
The Formula team, however, agreed with the decision. Allen was pleased to finish third, but thought his finish could have been better. “I thought U-57 jumped also. I was two boat lengths behind him and U-50 was ahead on my right. The disadvantage of being a legal starter is that when I got to turn 1, I got beat up because the jumpers were already there and the water was a mess. It’s tough to move up when you are running fifth on the course, especially with the big holes that were all over the course.”
Bernard was pleased with his second win of the year and his career. “The long wait to find out that I won does take away some of the excitement. But I think it is the right decision. It is a good way for the whole team to end the season.”
There was another happy team in the pits. The Navy team was pleased to finish the season fourth in the National Championship race. “For us to be fourth in points is a major accomplishment,” said Perkins. “For us, our success is what we did all year. I needed to finish the final to get the fourth spot so I wanted to stay outside, away from the salt and all the other stuff that happened before the start.”
The 2008 season will be remembered as one of the strangest in history. There were only six races, and one of them, the Gold Cup in Detroit, did not officially happen. The Madison race had serious debris problems. The Seattle and San Diego races ended in controversy and hard feelings. The defending National Championship boat only appeared at two races. In these times of economic difficulty, the financial health of the race teams and the race sites is questionable. The future will bring many challenges.
The 2008 season will also be remembered for the wonderful accomplishment of the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison team. Congratulations to the race team, the citizens of Madison, and the Oberto family. It was a long wait for all of you, but now enjoy your time in the spotlight.
[Reprinted from Unlimited NewsJournal, October 2008]