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Enough To Be Dangerous—One Man’s Ride From Lawnmower To Raceboat

My brother, Bobby Cazzani, and I have been screwing around with mechanical things since we were children. My first victories came on a riding lawnmower. I disabled the governor, changed the gears and a racer was born.

Our first endeavor into turbocharging occurred in 1992. I had a 1991 Ferrari 348 that with 300 hp that was a lackluster ride, especially when paired up against my 1969 Camaro powered by a 750-hp big block engine. At that time this was one of the quickest streetcars in our area. Talk about acceleration.

We decided the best way to wake up the Ferrari was to twin turbocharge it. The project commenced successfully and the result was amazing. This would be the first in a long line of turbocharged streetcars built in our modest Cranston, R.I. facility.

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This season, Mercury Racing M8 drives will be a vital part of Alex And Ani’s propulsion package. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Now fast forward to 2013.

My favorite boat of all time Stotler Racing’s Cintron/Superheat 42-foot Platinum catamaran, time appeared in the marketplace. I had been acquainted with famed engine builder Herb Stotler for many years. So I picked up the phone and 24 hours later I was an excited Superboat Unlimited-class catamaran owner. Yes, after an almost 20 year hiatus I rejoined the dysfunctional but lovable offshore racing community I had sorely missed.

As preparations commenced at Stotler’s engine-building facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., I decided—unbeknownst to Stotler—that supercharged motors were dinosaurs incapable of bringing a fight to the best racing motors, meaning Mercury Racing’s turbocharged QC4v engine series

My brother happened to have a 540-cubic-inch Superboat engine in Rhode Island. So I asked him, “Bobby, can we turbocharge your Superboat engine as a test mule?”

After conceding that the benefits greatly out weighed risks and that for sure my Platinum would be more competitive, cooler and unique with this update, he told me I was nuts—then started cutting, welding and assembling. Please understand, my brother has patience, talent and skills. I’m a dreamer and a front man who breaks wrenches and strips bolts. It’s no secret I love to be a hands on “mechanic.” However, at races when I offer assistance my loyal Alex And Ani team soldier/crew member, Levi Santana says “Boss we got this. They need you over there looking pretty and signing autographs.”


Alex And Ani put on a show during the 2016 Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thril Pix.

We concluded fabrication and assembly the first turbo motor late in 2013 and after a few short tests we were satisfied with the results. Testing resumed successfully in 2014, and after many hours flying the bay we knew this would be a viable modification to the Platinum.

Fast forward to fall 2014

Now I had to present this to Herb. He’s a very conservative, old-school-professor type of guy. So I was nervous.

“Herbie, I want to turbocharge my Stotlers,” I told him, and went into this long dissertation about the marine turbos we built (he had no idea, we kept the project hush, hush). I extolled the virtues and benefits of these systems and Herb was a good listener.

When I finished my speech, Herbie in his light Southern drawl, said, “Me and my dad turbocharged a boat once. It caught fire the first time we ran it.”

He understood and supported the build, but was a little skeptical we could pull it off. Long story short, we shipped one of the Stotler’s to Rhode Island after the 2014 SBI event in Key West, Fla., and began design of two complete turbo systems.

The engineering and component selection for an offshore racing motor are unique. We need power to get on plane. We need big torque. We need 7,500 rpm. We need to be able to run these motors wide open for 80 miles. And we need to keep them cool. In short, we need endurance in a torturous environment.

Our target was 1,800 hp with the smallest twin turbos we could run. There were space limitations and small turbos start to work at lower rpm. There are turns in offshore racing, such as the fabled Turn No. 3 in Key West, where depending on gear/prop/water conditions we may drop below 4,000 rpm.

Almost every component for this build was a one-off that needed to be fabricated. The headers, cold-side piping, hot-side piping, flanges, cooler and so on were custom-designed, then cut, welded and polished by hand utilizing the best materials available such as Inconel and 316 stainless to name a few. My brother Bobby and his talented assistant, racecar fabricator Ray Leathers spent months working evenings and weekends.

Not long before the 2015 SBI National Championships in Clearwater, Fla., event we get the setups to Herb for final assembly and dyno testing. He immediately noticed what he felt might be deficiencies related to cooling and a few other things. Herb performed the revisions and dyno testing began.

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The Alex And Ani team’s rivarly with the Miss GEICO fired up last year the OPA season-opener in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.

Finally I got the call I’d been waiting for from Herbie. He said, “Jimmy, this little engine just made more horsepower and torque than my big engines and I haven’t leaned on it yet.”

Herbie was impressed, especially give that these were 572-cubic inch motors in a facility where exotic 600- to 700-plus-cubic-inch motors are sprinkled all over the place.

Being enamored with women, I immediately name our motors “Andromedas” after the Goddess and “Greener Propulsion” because for sure turbocharged engines are more efficient and durable for our application. I also let Alex And Ani founder and chief Carolyn Rafaelian know of our success. I hoped this would please her as she had integrated environmental awareness into her company’s ethos from inception.

Dyno testing went well and were thrilled, but in 72 hours before we had to leave for Clearwater. The engines still had be installed in the Platinum.

No sleep, no problem. Who needs sleep?

Levi and Brady Bragg completed the installation, get us loaded up and off we went, excited and confident.

With offshore racing veteran Johnny Stanch on the wheel my sole focus was on decimating Chris Cox and Herbie in Envy, a 50-foot Mystic catamaran then also running Stotler engines. Herb had defected from our camp to drive Chris’s boat for this event, and after a verbal tussle with Cox I somehow I end up making a significant wager on my success—or failure.

We started out fine, great even. We handled Envy, which was a bonus and all seemed right with the world. But as the race unfolded, we steadily losing power lost power and boost.

So I upped the boost—yes, I can turn the power up or down from my cockpit, which is a great attribute. However, lap after lap we keep losing boost to the point Johnny and I decide to exit the course with a few laps left to go.

When we got out of the boat, we could see the motors. I said, “Johnny we blew ’em up.”

Fortunately when Herb dissected everything the following week we discovered I was wrong. The motors were fine but all four turbos had failed. We were pumping oil right out the turbos. Our exhaust header manufacturer had taken the time to weld runner dividers in the exhaust exit pipe. I don’t know why, but the dividers failed and ended up in our turbos’ exhaust wheels, and destroyed all four units.

In hindsight, not going to Clearwater and testing instead would have been prudent. Maybe we would have discovered the problem before it started. Then again, “prudent” and “boat racer” often don’t belong in the same sentence.

Lacking funding and spare new turbochargers, we had to run the 2015 Key West Worlds with crippled turbochargers.

But last season, these motors, which Herbie reworked, shined. We hit the Offshore Powerboat Association race in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., ready to go and go we did. But our race results from last year weren’t truly indicative of our performance. Drive issues plagued us all season. The Mercury Racing No. 6 drives are fine units but we ran them at almost 140 percent of their designed and rated torque capabilities. At conservative boost levels we were approaching 1,600 foot-pounds of torque at low engine speeds. It’s not horsepower that kills everything. It’s the torque.

For 2017, we’re in the process of converting to the fabled and very capable Mercury Racing M8-Rs drives. Problem solved. The motors are great. We actually ran the port motor all season last year and performed several dyno sessions without a full rebuild/ That’s amazing for an 1,800 hp engine—so amazing, in fact, that Herb has gone forward, built and tested a next-generation turbo motor that makes the original look like a small-blocks.

We’ll be debuting our revised stern drive package at the OPA Point Pleasant Beach event in May. I clearly have a score to settle with the Miss GEICO team. While Miss GEICO’s Scott Begovich, Marc Granet, Scott Colton have always been kind to me, Begovich has has a propensity for getting under my skin—but never into my head. Granet has a cockiness and swagger about him that makes you want to beat him, even if it’s just to the elevator.

I know the CRC/Sunlight Supply team poses a challenge as Mike Defrees and Jay Muller are both very capable and experienced pilots. I also see that Cat Can’t Do/American Ethanol always soars. They are darn quick.

But I still don’t understand how they can run ethanol. Our rules state “Fuels are limited to petroleum-based fuels” So I guess a drop of race gas in 200 gallons of American Ethanol is “petroleum based.” We all know the additional power Ethanol provides. Lucas Oil/Silverhook will always be there, be fast and most importantly consistent. Nigel Hook and Jay Johnson have that boat finely tuned.

Last and definitely not least are the MTI teams of CMS and Wake Effects. These guys are the best in the sport at this time and their talented and dedicated crews can completely rebuild two boats in less than 24 hours. They’re like a dynasty, like the New England Patriots. I’m planning on invading their home turf this year and showing up for the Lake Race on Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri. Beating one or both of these boats would be a great accomplishment.

Under Johnny Stanch and Herb Stotler’s tutelage I’ve learned a lot about running the boat. It is vastly different than running the older cats, where I enjoyed some success. Right now I know just enough to be dangerous, but not too dangerous.

Get ready, boys. Here I come.


Editor’s Note: Serafino “Jimmy” Cazzani (above) is the owner of the Scuderia Offshore Racing team sponsored by Alex And Ani.

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