Chapter 11 - The Rulebook
Incidental regulations may vary from course to course, depending on a variety of factors. Basically, however, there are many rules that are the same in all locations.
Signals are very important in relaying pertinent information to the drivers from the barge and visa versa. The "guns", or a cannon, is fired five minutes prior to the start of each heat and a yellow flag is displayed as the visual signal of this occurrence. The "one-minute gun" is later fired when a minute remains until the start and the yellow flag is quickly replaced with a white counterpart. A pancake-type blackout clock begins to operate with the one-minute gun to give the drivers a continuous read-out as to how much time remains before the start. Slowly, the disc revolves and transforms itself from red to black, when the change is complete the "starting gun" fires and the heat begins.
After the firing of the starting gun all flags take on a different role. When the yellow flag is displayed it informs the drivers that there is a hazardous condition on the race course which demands attention and caution, such as a boat dead-in-the-water. A red flag signifies postponement or stoppage and tells the boats to return to the pits. If the red flag is flown in conjunction with flares and red or orange smoke bombs the drivers are to proceed with extreme caution in returning to the pits.
In most cases the stoppage of a heat comes as the result of a driver entering the water or of a situation on the course that makes competition hazardous beyond normal expectations, in the opinion of the referee. When a boat goes "dead", or quits running, the driver must make every attempt to pull into the infield, the area around which the boats race. When the boat coasts to a stop the driver then gives a signal to the barge. Waving his hands means that he is okay and help is not needed promptly, but if he waves his life jacket, helmet, seat cushion or some other visible object he needs help for his boat is sinking. If no signal is given the heat will be stopped and immediate aid will be rendered.
Provided no emergency occurs the heat will proceed until 15 miles is reached (six laps on a 2½-mile course or five laps on a 3-mile course). The green flag is displayed for each boat as it embarks on its final lap then is greeted with the checkered flag as it crosses the finish line. The first to do so will, of course, be the winner of the heat and is met with the firing of the gun at the instant it crosses the line in victory.
The winner of a heat receives 400 points which are then accumulated towards the National High Point Standings. The boat that finishes second gets 300 points, third is awarded 225 points, fourth has 169, fifth receives 127 and sixth gets 95 points. If the boat fails to finish within 20 minutes of the start no points will be awarded. In most regattas these points are added together through two or three heats then the five boats that have the highest point totals compete against each other in the final heat. When the race ends all the points are totaled and the boat with the greatest amount wins the trophy.
Within the past couple of years another race format known as the "fan plan" has been developed. For the sake of explanation, let us pretend there are ten boats entered in the regatta. The five slowest qualifiers are pitted against each other in the first "flight" while the five fastest will race in the next section. The same combinations race in the second flight, with the slow then the fast sections. The four boats with the highest point totals from the fast section and two with the highest in the slow section race against each other in the winner-take-all final heat.
Point awards are changed somewhat in the fan plan format to prevent "sandbagging" by the contestants. This means purposely qualifying slow so that the boat will compete against slower hydros in the race. Boats in the slow section are not awarded as many points as the rest of the contestants; boats vying for a National High Point title will be discouraged from sandbagging because of this. In the slower section the winner gets 300 points and they diminish to 225 for second, 169 for third, 127, 95 and 71 for sixth. I n the final heat 600 points are awarded for first place, 450 for second, 338 for third, 254 for fourth, 190 fifth and 150 for a sixth place finish. The fast section uses the standard points system. Although the total points do not alter the standings in the regatta they do become helpful towards the National High Point Championship.
For many years "bonus points" were given, this practice caused many troubles and was eventually discarded. The idea was that 400 points were given to the boat that had the least total elapsed time during the race. In 1955 Gale V managed to win the Gold Cup without winning a single heat but by taking the bonus points. Fans became outraged at the system and it was altered so that elapsed time was treated as a separate heat and points were awarded thus. Soon the idea was dropped altogether.
Another system of National High Points had been used in earlier years. A boat winning a regatta was awarded 450 points towards the National High Point Standings, second place got 350 points, third 275, fourth 219, fifth 177, sixth 145 and continuing down the race standings, 121 for seventh, 103, 90, 80 for tenth, 72, 67, 63, 59, 57 for 15th, 55, 54, 53, 52, 51 for twentieth, 50 points if the boat failed to finish a single heat and no points if the boat failed to start. This practice was soon abolished in favor of the simpler accumulative point system now used.
The first heat of the race is divided into sections ...A, B and C, with no more than five boats in either (six may be allowed on certain courses). At the driver's meeting a drawing is held by lot which determines the boats that will race in each section, if an owner enters more than one boat they must compete in separate sections.
Before the heat gets underway the one-minute gun is fired, every boat that will compete in the heat must be on the course and running at the one minute gun; if not, the boat will be scored as failing to start. If a boat crosses the starting line at any time during the interval thirty seconds before the starting gun it will have "jumped the gun" and is penalized one extra lap. If a boat hits and destroys or dislodges a buoy it will also be docked an extra tour of the course. The destroyed buoy then ceases to be a marker and may be disregarded by the drivers and course judges.
If a boat forces another into the infield or into a buoy the offending boat will be penalized an extra lap. When a hydroplane overtakes another it may not cut in front of the passed boat until three boat lengths separate the two, failure to do so can be accompanied by disqualification, a fine or both. All passing should be done to the outside of the overtaken boat, if a driver elects to pass on the inside he does not gain the right-of-way until he draws abreast of the overtaken boat to the extent that the bows are even.
If a boat receives outside assistance, accepts a tow or leaves the race course before crossing the finish line it will be disqualified from that heat or section. Any boat that has not been disqualified, withdrawn or irreparably damaged shall be eligible to enter the next heat.
Under no circumstance may a driver wear a seat belt, safety belt or shoulder harness of any kind. No more than one driver and one mechanic may be on board a boat during racing or qualifying. They may, however, be changed between heats. There is no limit to complete engine changes during the running of a regatta and a qualified boat may enter any preliminary heat regardless of whether or not it started a previous one.
Other rules applicable mainly to the race course include the fact that all spectator boats shall be anchored at a safe distance and not be allowed to move. There shall be safety boats that are provided with steel stretchers, fire-fighting equipment, flares and radio communication with officials to aid in the race and assist in case of an accident. There shall also be three boats that have water pumps, skin divers and material to plug holes to aid sinking boats. Each hydroplane will be furnished with an escort to handle it in the pit area while other tenders will be concerned with clearing the debris from the course.
Any decision of the referee in all matters (the legality of starts and finishes, disqualifications or suspensions for dangerous or unsportsmanlike driving, interpretations of rules, etc.) shall be final and above reproach by owner, driver or official and shall not be subject to protest or appeal.
(Reprinted from Roostertails Unlimited by Andy Muntz, 1973)
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© Leslie Field, 2000