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Countdown To Key West: Lights, Cameras, Action—And Stihl

The Stihl team cockpit duo of owner/driver J.R. Noble and throttleman Mark Kowalski will be coming to next month’s Super Boat International Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., with more than their slippery fast 38-foot Skater catamaran, a talented crew and the 2014 Superboat-class National Championship under their belt. Thanks to the corporate end of the team’s well-known power tool sponsor, an eight-person film crew is coming to the Key West Worlds to produce a one-hour television show on the event—but focused primarily on the Superboat class—that will air on NBC Sports. (Speedonthewater.com will announced the exact date and next week.)


If conditions during SBI’s 2014 Key West Worlds next month are anything like they were last year, Noble and Kowalski may get the rough water they’re looking for. Photo courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples Image.

According to Noble, the video crew coming to Key West produces several notable television shows including the Bassmasters fishing tournaments and Timbersports lumberjack competitions.

“This will get some real exposure for the sport,” said Noble. “Some of the teams will have interviews, some will get on TV.”

Asked if his sponsor would prefer his team to come out of Key West as the 2014 Superboat-class World Champion, Noble laughed heartily.

“That would be the best scenario,” he said. “But win, lose or draw, the show is for sure. They’ve pinned down an actual day and time the show will air, and I’ll get that to you next week.”

On the actual racing front, Stihl heads into Key West with a pair of 750-hp Frank McComas engines that McComas refreshed before the SBI National Championships in Clearwater, Fla. TNT Custom Marine of Miami rebuilt the cat’s drives after the event.

During the regular season, six of the seven races Stihl entered featured smooth water. Only one event—Cocoa Beach, Fla.—was rough. Noble said that while he has confidence in his boat and throttleman under any sea conditions, he’d prefer Key West to be on the rougher side.

“We had a storybook season—we won six out of seven races,” said Noble. “Mark is really good in the rough and that’s probably an advantage for us. We’ve been fast in the calm too, but we’d like to see a little bit of rough water.

“Mark is a quiet guy, but make no bones about it,” he added. “He’s out there to win and he has a lot of experience. When the flag drops, he’s a different person.”

Noble said that while a strong approach to every race is imperative, Key West’s triple-race format makes finishing each race equally important. He pointed out that WHM Motorsports, which has a new Skater catamaran it will debut in Key West, finished second in all three races to claim the Superboat-class world title in 2013, whereas last year Stihl took first place in the Wednesday and Friday races, but broke on Sunday and ended up second overall.

“You have to be aggressive, especially as tight as the competition is in this class,” said Noble. “You can win, but you can end up fourth or fifth just as easily. I don’t think anybody is going into Key West with a big advantage. Who stays together and who has some luck—you need good starts and you need to get out in front—is important. You want to win every race, you also want to be mindful of walking away with a world championship.

“There are plenty of top contenders,” he continued. “I know Racing for Cancer has a very fast boat, especially now that they have had some seat time together. Bob Teague (in the AMSOIL Skater cat) is always fast, and lord knows he has plenty of experience. Billy (Mauff, the driver and owner of WHM Motorsports) has a brand-new boat nobody has seen, and knowing them and Skater it’s going to be fast.”

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