Mark Small, the owner of the Cleveland Construction offshore powerboat racing team, has confirmed that he is exiting the sport. Small, who has been involved in offshore racing for the 13 years and currently owns a Skater Powerboats 388 catamaran that competed in Super Boat International Superboat-class competition for several years, cited personal and professional reasons for his departure.
Cleveland Construction was among the top teams competing in SBI’s Superboat class. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“A number of things have changed in my life,” he said. “One of them is that I am retiring from Cleveland Construction at the end of the year. The company was gracious enough to support my racing efforts while I was involved, but they don’t have the same passion for the sport as I do. That’s just what happens when you run a family business with your two brothers. My brothers—Jon and James—and I have been grooming a couple of people to take my position.
“I have also had two bouts with health issues—both with A-Fib—this year, one as recently as a week-and-a-half ago,” he continued “The first one was in March. That has taken its toll and made me rethink a lot of my opportunities. This has been one of the harder decisions I’ve had to make in a long time.”
As Small confirmed in a prior speedonthewater.com story, the Mentor, Ohio, offshore race he spearheaded and backed for Race World Offshore this year and SBI in previous years, has been cancelled.
Small said that the Cleveland Construction 38-foot Skater will be sold once its Sterling Performance engines, which were replaced for last month’s SBI Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., when the Pro Floors Racing NZ-1 team leased the boat to compete, have been reinstalled. The catamaran will be sold with those engines plus another pair and new drives.
“It will leave (former Cleveland Construction throttleman) Grant Bruggemann’s shop ready to race,” he said.
“We wish Mr. Small the best in his future endeavors,” said Bruggemann, the owner of Grant’s Signature Racing in Bradenton, Fla., who declined to elaborate on his future offshore racing plans. “It was a pleasure working with him. We’re excited for the opportunities ahead.”
The spokesperson for the Supercat Racing organization—a group of team owners formed this year in what Small and others call the “750 class” for its general engine horsepower output—Small was an influential and sometimes controversial figure in the sport. This year, his relationship with SBI leadership became particularly contentious.
Small was among the early leading proponents of Race World Offshore, which was formed by Key West businessman Larry Bleil, late last year year. More recently, after being informed that the tow/support boats the Cleveland Construction team has supplied at no charge to SBI for the past 10 years would not be craned into the water at the 2018 SBI National Championships in Clearwater, Fla., in October, Small withdrew his team from the contest. Shortly thereafter, he was banned by SBI from competing in the Key West the following month.
“Being in the sport has been very rewarding and a lot of fun, but the last couple of years have been somewhat more difficult,” he said. “We haven’t had a promoter, and I’m talking about SBI now, that has led the business of offshore powerboat racing in a way that generates good return on investment—and I’m talking about exposure—for those who have invested so much. So the sport has been somewhat stagnant.
“Race World Offshore is a new organization that came out of the woodwork, and Larry (Bleil) is a super-nice guy who’s given his all—and I’m not sure he’s ‘out’ yet,” he continued. “Powerboat P1 doesn’t really have racing product that ‘fits’ our class, but they do have television and they have done a great job promoting offshore racing. And then you have OPA, which has focused mostly on the smaller boats and the up-and-coming racers, and that’s needed to make powerboat racing successful. As I see things today, I have hope that OPA and P1 can create a successful alliance that will improve how offshore racing is perceived and how those who invest in the sport can actually get something out of it promotion-wise.”
Small said that while his departure from the offshore racing world as a team owner is bittersweet on a personal level, he’s optimistic about the sport’s future. Unity among and within the teams in various classes, he said, is essential for success.
“Being the 750 Class spokesman this year—Mark Waddington of Performance Boat Center is taking that over—has been rewarding because the owners are such a great bunch of guys,” he said. “I know them, I know their families and I know their crews. You cannot find a more dedicated group of people. Of course, it’s been challenging from time to time to ‘keep the frogs in the wheelbarrow,’ as I say. They like to think for themselves—most successful businesspeople do, I suspect.
“The only way this sport succeeds is for all the classes to be working together toward a common goal, to make the sport great again,” he added. “My goal was always to get the sport back to what it once was, and I think we had some movement in that direction.”
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