Not since 2002 when veteran offshore racer Brian Hollis ran to victory in a Twin Step Top Gun has a boat from Cigarette Racing Team claimed an offshore racing world championship. For good bottom-line reasons, Skip Braver, the owner of the vaunted Opa-Locka, Fla., brand of high-performance V-bottoms and center consoles has taken Cigarette in far more productive directions since purchasing the company the following year.
Soper and Slater bested seven other teams in Morehead City, N.C., last weekend on their way to a Class 4 world title. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
That changed last weekend when Matt Soper, a 49-year-old long-time performance-boat owner who lives in Elk Rapids, Mich., piloted his 1988, conventional V-bottom 38-foot Cigarette dubbed Old School to a Class 4 world title in the Offshore Powerboat Association Crystal Coast World Championships in Morehead City, N.C. Navigator Mark Slater joined Soper in the boat for the Friday and Sunday races against seven other Class 4 teams.
“We did it,” said Soper, who currently is hauling the Kevlar-constructed 38-footer powered by 598-cubic-inch, ProCharger M-4-equipped engines from WESCO Racing Engines with his wife, Chelsi. “We backed up the words on the ‘Cigarette Racing Team’ logo with a 32-year-old boat.”
Class 4 is on of several speed-bracketed division in OPA. Boats in Class 4 are not allowed to exceed 85 mph. The goal behind bracket-class racing to create a level playing field so boats of various hull types, lengths and power outputs can compete in their given class based on the technical rules each group.
Soper purchased Old School boat eight years ago. It had seen extensive work during the years including having its hull blue-printed and original drives replaced by famed offshore racer Art Lilly, its interior spruced up by Fineline Interiors and its paint redone by David Hunter. A former multi-tiime Formula sportboat owner who long-dreamed of owning a Cigarette thanks to the Miami Vice television show and the days when Don Johnson, Chuck Norris and Kurt Russell dabbled in the sport,
Soper originally bought the boat for poker runs.
“We did the poker run thing for a long time,” said Soper. “We loved doing poker run and met a lot of great people through doing them.”
But had a notion to go racing. During meetings with OPA president Ed “Smitty” Smith in 2018 about bringing back a race to Northern Michigan, Soper decided he’d give it a try. The following year, Soper took on an overseas work assignment so he had to wait until 2020 to enter the fray.
Except the fray, thanks to COVID-19, barely materialized this season. In June, Soper took Old School—in offshore racing dress—to the Cigarette Owners Rendezvous hosted by Performance Boat Center in Osage Beach, Mo., and the 38-footer turned heads. But like the rest of the offshore racing world, he had to wait until September for his first contest of year, the OPA’s Crystal Coast Grand Prix in Morehead City.
A distributor-gear failure kept Soper and Slater off mostly off the course that September weekend. But last weekend, they returned to the venue for the OPA worlds.
“In Friday’s race, we had distributor problems with the port engine again and broke out of our bracket once, so we finished third,” said Soper. “We had parts overnighted to us in Morehead City. Dave Wesseldyk of WESCO was there to do all the work. For Sunday’s race, we idled out on the starboard engine and ended up fouling a spark plug and losing a cylinder. We couldn’t get the engine above 3,500 rpm so we know we wouldn’t break out—the fastest speed we saw was 84.5 mph. We knew we had to finish ahead of Typhoon and Woody to win the championship, and we did.
In its first event, the Old School team took home an OPA Class 4 World Championship.
“Anybody who gives bracket racing a hard time has no idea—it’s extremely challenging,” he continued. “You’re not just trying to get around the racecourse, you’re paying attention to your speeds. That makes it at least 30 percent harder. The GPS records your speed 20 times a second and you can only break out for three seconds.”
Soper plans to return to the sport in 2021. “Oh hell yes,” he said. “We will be in Cocoa Beach (Fla.) for the first race of the season next year.”
Braver, Cigarette Racing Team’s owner and chief executive officer was delighted with the news of Old School’s fresh world title.
“That is very, very cool,” said Braver. “We are proud of our racing heritage, and we want to congratulate Matt Soper and the Old School team for helping keep it alive.”