J. Michael Kelly leads Jimmy Shane in the U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison to the start. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
J. Michael Kelly leads Jimmy Shane in the U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison to the start. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
DETROIT — J. Michael Kelly knew that he needed lane one if he wanted any chance to win Sunday’s APBA Gold Cup. So when the veteran hydroplane driver saw his chance, he took it.

Kelly made a gutsy move through the infield to seize lane one from Jimmy Shane at the last moment and then used that position to power his U-5 Graham Trucking to victory in the UAW-GM American Power Boat Association Gold Cup in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.

It marked the first time Kelly has won the sport’s oldest and most prestigious trophy and the magnitude of that nearly brought him to tears.

“I’m living a dream. The Gold Cup is just huge,” Kelly said. “Just the names on that and the teams that have won it, it speaks for itself. To be on that list is truly an honor. I never thought I would win a Gold Cup ... there are some amazing guys that never did it in their career and I feel for them. I got it and it’s pretty cool. A lot of it is luck and luck was on our side today.”

Shane had steered his U-1 Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison to wins in all four preliminary heats — including three times from the outside lanes — and had twice bested Kelly head-to-head.

The two-time defending Gold Cup champion appeared to have lane one locked up for the final when Kelly cut through the infield and into lane one alongside Shane. The two boats came together, but rather than risk a collision that could take him out of contention, Shane opted to slide out and give his rival the lane. Although Kelly’s maneuver was later questioned by the Miss Madison team, H1 Unlimited made no call on the move.

“It was a very, very competitive (race). I knew somebody was going to make a move that was out of the ordinary to win this race and Mike did just that,” Shane said. “I thought we were in position to defend anything like that, but Mike slid right in there and got us on the inside. I think we would have gotten him on the inside.”

Kelly had lane one but the race wasn’t over. The two boats hit the starting line deck-to-deck and came close enough together in the first turn that fellow driver Brian Perkins reported by radio that he thought they had hit. Shane led through the turn but Kelly quickly pulled even.

“Jimmy had the lead but I had enough to pull him through,” Kelly said. “The guys told me I was going to have a fast boat for the final and they were right. I was just hoping it would hold together.”

Kelly drove the Graham Trucking on the ragged edge, bouncing dangerously out of the water on turn two of the second lap but he maintained control and starting with lap three began to pull away.

Team owner Ted Porter, who entered the race with 18 career wins over 11 years, said that after so many near misses, he was just hoping nothing went wrong.

“We’ve been on the podium a bunch of times and it just felt like, ‘Man, we’ve got to win this thing sometime.’ This year I had a real, good feeling and all of the guys really worked together,” Porter, whose team is based out of Decatur, Ind., said. “By lap three, three-and-a-half I said, ‘No, I’m not going to celebrate yet. This is survival now, we’ve got to stay out in front.’ It’s just awesome. I can’t explain how cool this is.”

By lap three, Shane had fallen far enough off Kelly’s pace that only a mistake by Kelly would have made a difference. Still, Shane’s second-place finish allows him to take a 584-point lead over Kelly into the H1 Unlimited season finale next month at San Diego.

“It was a great points weekend for the Miss HomeStreet Bank/Miss Madison. The crew did a fantastic job and the boat ran great,” said Shane, who saw a 14-heat win streak in Gold Cup races snapped with the loss. “Obviously we would have liked to have won the Gold Cup again, but we have our sights on the national championship and we’ll get ready for San Diego.”

Kelly’s teammate, Jeff Bernard, finished third in the U-7 Graham Trucking II after edging Brian Perkins and the U-21 Miss Al Deeby in a spirited duel to the finish line. The podium finish helped ease the pain of a rough weekend overall for Bernard.

“We’re thrilled to get third place. We didn’t have a third-place boat this weekend but the guys did a great job of getting it ready for the final,” Bernard said. “I’ve never worked so hard for third place in my life. This was harder than winning at Madison in 2008.”

Tom Thompson was fifth in the U-11 Peters & May while rookie Andrew Tate was sixth in the U-9 RealTrac Performance after being assessed a one-lap penalty in the final. Tate, who was the second fastest qualifier and had won three preliminary heats, was a serious contender in the final but he dislodged a buoy while trying to battle for lane one prior to the start of the final to take him out of contention.

Tate did win the Grand Prix final heat, overtaking the leader on the final lap and winning in a sprint to the finish line. Coupled with his Unlimited win at Seattle earlier this month, it’s been a good past few weeks for the 27-year-old Detroit native.

“This has been a pretty good month,” Tate said with a smile. “(Turning) 27 isn’t so bad.”

Weather conditions on the Detroit River were not an issue Sunday after Saturday’s Gold Cup preliminary heats ended early when storms moved into the Detroit area. Shane won Heat 2A under threatening skies as he and Bernard tip-toed through the four lap preliminary before race officials opted to delay Heat 2B until Sunday morning.

“It was unbelievably difficult. It was so dark you couldn’t see the buoys and every time we got to the Belle Isle Bridge you could see lightning over downtown Detroit. It was creepy,” Shane said. “We just wanted to get the heat over with. Both of us wanted to make the final and we didn’t want to damage the boats.”

The H1 Unlimited series now heads to San Diego Sept. 16-18 for the season-ending Bill Muncey Cup. Shane will be seeking his fourth-straight Driver’s Championship — a feat accomplished only by Dave Villwock previously — and the team’s seventh Mike’s Hard Lemonade National High Points crown in the past nine years. The last two of Shane’s titles came with the Miss Madison Racing Team.