Hands on hips, lips pursed and his knuckles white around a water bottle, J. Michael Kelly didn’t look like a guy who had just finished first in the 2014 Albert Lee Appliance Cup at Seafair.
After some expert maneuvering to keep race favorite Jimmy Shane and the Oberto boat on the outside of the racecourse, Kelly was awaiting word on whether he would be hit with a penalty for cutting Shane off prematurely.
Fifteen minutes went by with Kelly’s wife, Angela, laying a steady hand on her husband’s shoulder as the team waited for an official decision. But at last: jubilation and no penalty for the Graham Trucking team.
“We knew he was clean,” said sponsor Rob Graham. “The whole time, the whole team knew he was clean. We were trying to figure out what they were even looking at.”
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The controversy came on the final lap of the race. Kelly and the Graham Trucking boat had forced Shane to an outside lane. Shane was making a move back inside, when Kelly darted back in front of the Oberto. Officials reviewed whether Kelly had the appropriate seven-boat-length cushion before making the move, and eventually ruled in his favor.
The Oberto boat suffered damage to its front wing after hitting the Graham Trucking boat’s roostertail.
“Well, I jumped inside of him on the last lap there because he was taking me out from the freaking beach, and pulled up alongside of Jon (Zimmerman), and then going into the last quarter, I went right through his tail,” Shane, from Renton, said.
Zimmerman, in the Les Schwab Tires-Team RedDOT boat, had a rough start in the final Sunday, and ended up as a dark horse in the race. He made it back to an inside lane with enough time to overtake the Oberto, and make a run at Kelly, but eventually finished second.
“I thought it was over,” Zimmerman said of being pushed to the outside early in the race. “So second place after that start — we’re ecstatic.”
Although Zimmerman, from Maple Valley made a late push in the final stretch, it was the Oberto boat, which finished third, that was the focus of the Graham Trucking team.
Saturday, after a heat victory over Shane, Kelly said keeping the “6” in an outside lane was a priority all weekend. And in Sunday’s final, he executed that plan to perfection.
“We drew it up and we knew where we needed to be on that mark and it just happened to work out the exact way we drew it up,” Kelly said of keeping Shane on the outside of the course. “I don’t think it could get any better. Checkmate.”
With the Seafair victory, Graham Trucking takes home its second consecutive Albert Lee Cup victory, after Shane won in the boat last year.
Kelly, from Bonney Lake, had previously driven for Graham Trucking in 2009 and 2010, and he said he was happy to be back on the team.
“Luckily, Ted Porter and his family gave me a second opportunity when the seat opened up,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier. This is my hometown race. I got a win in front of all my family and friends.”
With the victory, Kelly and his Graham Trucking team gain some ground on Shane in the season’s points race.
“Every win ahead of the Oberto helps,” Kelly said. “We’ve missed some heats unfortunately and that’s what’s put us behind. If we can just keep on finishing strong, we’ll be good.”