U-37 Schumacher Racing says it's committed to the sport and will continue racingPosted: Updated:
SEATTLE, Wash - The message from the U-37 Schumacher Racing camp holds fast: "Come race with us!"
Following an exhaustive and futile protest put before their sanctioning organization, the American Boat Racing Association, hydroplane owners Billy and Jane Schumacher announced they are committed to the sport, alongside U-37 sponsor Beacon Plumbing, and will continue racing. They're also urging more structure and improved checks and balances in the way the races are run.
What appeared to be a free and clear Chevrolet Cup victory just weeks ago at Seafair turned out to be a controversial loss. Tens of thousands viewing Seafair witnessed the checkered flag go down as the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing hydroplane cruised to certain glory. Soon after, a chief referee's controversial "off plane" penalty tacked on one minute to the finish time, resulting in a fifth-place finish.
Buoyed by hundreds of supportive fan letters, commentary from experts, and an engineer-plotted speed chart, Mr. Schumacher was fueled in his pursuit change the sport for the better. One goal: Make sure calls such as the one that thwarted the U-37's victory are made fairly, consistently and only by qualified officials, he says.
Although in one interview Schumacher was prepared to say "bye-bye" to the sport, he has no intention of leaving. The recent event has compromised the integrity of the sport and it's got to change, he says.
"In order for the sport to survive, changes have to be made swiftly--it feels as if the sport of unlimited racing was just set back 10 years again; we're using this experience to make a difference for future races," Schumacher said. "In our case, a relatively inexperienced official made the initial call from the vantage point of a helicopter on the opposite end of the race course; not only did we wholeheartedly disagree with the validity of the call and the ability for that call to be made from that vantage point, we seriously question the authority and credentials of the person who initiated the call."
Schumacher explained there is an arbitrary process in the selection of the circuit officials each year.
Although some are highly qualified, others may have personal conflicts or lack experience for the class which they're judging. They are also unpaid to officiate. "Why not get qualified, paid officials with the credentials, direct experience and knowledge to fairly apply the ABRA rules?" he added.
Following the Seafair loss, Beacon Plumbing President William Cahill issued a statement entitled "We're freaking at Beacon," decrying the penalty call. Hundreds more rallied for their hometown favorite in letters, e-mails, blogs and news story comments.
Hydroplane boat builder and 59-year veteran of the sport Ron Jones called the referee's decision at Seafair "the worst I have experienced in all those years." Racing great Chip Hanauer served on the KIRO broadcasting team at Seafair wrote a detailed letter disagreeing with the "off plane" call.
Chuck Pepka, a design engineer at Renton Coil and Spring, dissected KIRO television race footage to plot a time and speed chart which illustrated the U-37 was on plane at the time of the call.
In the end, the ABRA gave overriding consideration to its rulebook, citing "this penalty is a judgment call by the referee and is final." Charging forward, the U-37 wraps up the season at the next stop: Bayfair in San Diego's Mission Bay, Sept. 19-21.
Billy Schumacher, a.k.a. "Billy the Kid," is a three-time unlimited hydroplane champion, two-time winner of the prestigious Gold Cup, and was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records. U-37 driver Jean Theoret, 45, of Quebec, thrilled fans in Seattle in 2005 (U-8) and 2006 (U-37) by winning consecutive Chevrolet Cups on Lake Washington. Learn more and come race with us at www.u-37.com/.
SOURCE: Schumacher Racing Team