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Commentary: Race World Offshore Dodged A Bullet

For what would have been the first three days 2020 Race World Offshore Key West Championships last week, the city got pounded by bands of foul weather spun off by Hurricane Eta. Videos of breaking waves in Key West Harbor were all over mainstream and social media. At one point, the entrance from the Outer Mole to the wet pits/staging area for the offshore raceboats look like a pretty good surf spot.

Had Larry Bleil and company at Race World Offshore not cancelled their Key West Championships, the weather likely would have done it for them. Photo from the 2019 RWO Key West event by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

It is safe to say that no raceboats would have touched the water until Thursday. For more than a week, the winds in the nation’s Southernmost city were so strong that Larry Bleil, the head of Race World Offshore, and his crew wouldn’t have been able to raise their registration, information and hospitality tents.

For teams coming from all over the country, the typically slow drive through the Florida Keys would have been even more excruciating—and treacherous—than usual.

That weather cleared to perfection for the Florida Powerboat Club’s Key West Poker Run hijinks from Thursday to Saturday, which worked beautifully for the 160 performance-boat owners and their guests who participated in the event. But the Race World Offshore event would not have fared nearly as well in the same time window.

“We couldn’t have had worse timing with weather,” Bleil said, then paused to chuckle. “We start setting up a full week before the race, and had we gone ahead this year we wouldn’t have been able to start setting up before Thursday—and the races start Wednesday.

“In a way, I think we got lucky this year,” he added. “If we had to cancel because of weather, this would have been the year.”

Of course, that’s not why Bleil cancelled. He correctly read the writ-large message of Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commissioners and scrubbed his event before they scrubbed it for him. Better to exit gracefully, he rightly reckoned, than be asked to leave.

Bleil explained that, because of this year’s cancellation and last year’s lack of funding from the Monroe County Tourism Development Council, he’s confident he’ll have at least two years added to his five-year contract to produce the annual Key West event. The TDC already has approved funding for the 2021 happening, though at 50 percent of its former level. Such is the way of things in wake of COVID-19.

Still, Bleil remains fully committed to producing the Key West Championships next November, as well as an event in Clearwater, Fla., the month prior.

“We are solid with Clearwater and Key West,” he said. “The other venues I’ve talked to, they just don’t know so it’s hard to plan for the season. It’s been such a weird year—a really weird year—and this thing isn’t over yet.”

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