As a sport, offshore racing has suffered through decades of politics and power plays. And for competitors and fans, that’s been a shame because in its finest moments the sport delivers great action, at least if big boats running fast on the water is your thing. But with a steadily contracting event schedule during the past few years, Super Boat International, one of the sport’s premiere and longest-standing producers of events that include the coveted annual offshore world championships in Key West, Fla., has seen racer participation and fan interest decline.
Meanwhile, the Offshore Powerboat Association, a New Jersey-based outfit that runs under the American Power Boat Association umbrella, has remained solid with its own boat and event counts. In fact, the organization has added races—and attracted racers—during the past few years.
But where OPA captured the grassroots racer crowd, SBI attracted the top teams in the premiere classes, though there always was some crossover. The well-known Miss GEICO team, for example, competed on both circuits, albeit with zero competition in the OPA ranks. The same could be said for AHM Motorsports and other Super Cat-class teams that competed in OPA races, whereas they faced competitive five- to seven-boat fleets on the SBI circuit.
With the six-race APBA Championship Series, which kicks off May 17-19 in Cocoa Beach, Fla., with venues as far south as Sarasota, Fla., and as far north as St. Clair, Michigan, organizers from the Offshore Powerboat Association and Powerboat P1 organization are hoping to change that. In addition to online Livestream, the co-organizers reportedly have inked post-event television for coverage for all six events. And they already have series-long commitments from teams in various classes such as Miss GEICO, the Dubai-based Victory team, the 2018 SBI Superboat-class world champion WHM Motorsports team, the 2016-2018 SBI Superboat-class world champion Performance Boat Center team.
If commitments from teams running in the Super Vee Lite and Super Stock come through, each of those thriving, fan-favorite classes could have six to 10 boats at every race.
“We’ve been getting a great response,” said Azam Rangoonwala, chief executive officer of Powerboat P1, which has produced SuperStock, single-engine V-bottom-class racing in the United States for the past six years. “Everyone wants to race in something consistent. Some racers might not have be able to make all six races—OPA has a lot of racers who won’t—but I think everyone just wants to race. And we are making a platform where everyone can race.
“It’s not easy, as you know, with all the classes and different elements and sites involved,” he continued. “But by bringing it together under the ABPA, we link back to the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique, powerboat racing’s longstanding international sanctioning body) and start with a fresh slate.”
As noted above, series will kick off in May with the Cocoa Beach event, followed the Lake Race, June 1-2, in Missouri. From there, it will pick up again July 6-7 in Sarasota, Fla., followed by two more race—St. Clair, Mich., July 27-28 and Michigan City, Ind., Aug. 3-4—before moving to Clearwater for the series finale.
More recently, OPA and Powerboat P1 have submitted a Request For Proposal to the City of Key West for the five-year contract to be named “race promoter” for its annual races in early November. With the 2018 Key West Worlds, SBI, which also is bidding for the contract, finished its completed its five-year agreement. Representatives from SBI, OPA/P1 and Race World Offshore, which produced its first two races last year, met last month with Key West assistant city manager Gregory Veliz, who candidly told, “Make your best deal.”
The winning bidder will be announced later this month. If the OPA/P1 win group does secure the contract, the Key West event will be kept as a separate week of world championship racing from the six-race APBA Championship Series.
“We were hesitant to go for the RFP in the first place actually, just because it’s such a big event and we’re doing a lot already,” said Rangoonwala, who has support for the APBA series and Key West World from Mercury Racing, which introduced an 1,100-hp ECM-sealed spec engine for its most powerful class, and the Miss GEICO offshore racing team. “To take on another event like Key West is not a small task. But we essentially said, “We are doing so much to bring together all these races in our series and maintain consistency within the sport and you can only do this once every five years, so let’s just go for it."
“We are confident,” he continued. “We also know there are a lot of politics involved. We understand that we don’t 100-percent have it, but you know what? We are going to put our best foot forward and see how it goes. You never know what is going to happen but we feel like we have a good opportunity and, hey, let the best man win.”
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