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Experience Rules In First Race Of 2022 Key West Worlds

At the start of yesterday’s Class 1 race at the Race World Offshore-produced Offshore World Championships presented by Performance Boat Center in Key West, Fla., throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly charged to the front in the 47-foot Victory catamaran, Huski Chocolate. That boat was followed by throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Carlos de Quesada in the 49-foot Victory, Huski Wear.

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In the first day of racing at the Race World Offshore-produced American Power Boat Association/Union International Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., veteran throttlemen, such as the Graydel team’s Billy Moore, ruled the day in the professional classes. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

About 90 minutes later, the green flag flew for the Super Stock-class race, which included owner/driver Cole Leibel and throttleman Gary Ballough in the 32-foot Victory catamaran, Big East Construction, and throttleman Grant Bruggemann and owner/driver Darren Kittridge racing together for the first time in several years in the Northwing 32-foot Doug Wright.

In the final race of the day, the boat that has been ruling the Super Cat class in rough water, the 38-foot Skater, Graydel, took control early and never relinquished it. Throttleman Billy Moore and owner/driver Chris Grant ran at the front from the green flag to the checkers. Pulling double duty, Tomlinson and Ballough then battled in their respective boats for the top honors in the 450R Factory Stock class.

What do all these teams have in common? Their throttlemen are some of the most experienced in the sport. With winds blowing consistently out of the Southwest at about 10 mph with stronger gusts and Key West’s usual mix of conditions on the 4.38-mile course, veteran knowledge was needed to be successful at the 41st annual Offshore World Championships produced by Race World Offshore.

A total of 59 teams arrived in the southernmost city in the United States to vie for the world championships in 12 classes. Originally, the teams were expecting to compete in three races on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, but Hurricane Nicole had other plans. With the storm making landfall Thursday morning near Vero Beach, Fla., the high winds preceding the storm forced Race World Offshore officials to cancel Wednesday’s competition.

That was a big disappointment for the Class 1 teams that were returning to Key West for the first time since 1987 to compete for a Union international Motonautique world championship. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the sanctioning body for worldwide powerboat racing.

With the 2022 Class 1 World Championship under its belt, the Huski Chocolate team kept right on rolling in Key West.

Through most of 2022, Class 1 had averaged about three or four boats, but Key West had six, including the addition of a second boat in the Huski fleet. The 47-foot Victory, 222 Offshore with Darren Nicholson and Giovanni Carpitelli, had planned to be at among the Class 1 fleet, but Nicholson had complications following surgery that forced the team to withdraw.

Still, Class 1 had six boats and when the green flag flew, the team of throttleman Alex Pratt and Miles Jennings in the 45-foot MTI, Good Boy Vodka/XINSURANCE, held the inside lane and put it to good use, taking third place behind the Huski boats. Owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Marc Granet in the 50-foot Mystic, df Young, gave chase and the two had one of the best battles of the day with Jennings and Pratt.

Running off the pace, owner/driver Jeff Stevenson and throttleman Mike Stancombe brought up the rear in the 42-foot MTI, JBS Racing. Stancombe said an early-race collision with the Sweetbeans boat in Extreme class caused him to slow and fall off the pace.

Making their Class 1 debut, owner/driver Mike Falco and throttleman Chris Hanley were looking to finish in the 48-foot Outerlimits, Team DeFalco, which they did, but one of the team’s Mercury Racing 1,100-hp engines sounded ill at the end of the race.

Team DeFalco made its Class 1 debut yesterday, but exited the race with an engine issue.

Lilly said that he and Curtis wanted to take the early lead. “That was definitely the plan—with this small course, it’s hard to overtake somebody,” he said. “Steve ran so hard on that first lap.”

The run out to the first turn can always be challenging in Key West and on about lap three, Huski Chocolate took flight at about 125 mph.

“We sailed that thing,” Lilly said. “It was flying so long and so far, I wondered if it was going to touch down.”

Lilly usually races in Stock Vee in his 30-foot Extreme, but when he learned he had the Class 1 ride for Key West, he decided to leave the smaller boat on the trailer so he could focus on the world championship effort with the Huski team. Even though the Victory is much bigger and faster, he said his approach doesn’t change as much as one might expect. “You’re still trying to make the best line,” he said. “You’re still trying to turn the best you can.”

Second place in Class 1 went to Tomlinson and de Quesada, who will more than likely come out punching on Sunday. “I just couldn’t run with the smaller, lighter boat,” Tomlinson said.

In the battle for third, Good Boy Vodka/XINSURANCE battled df Young which had a motor going away after ingesting some saltwater at the start and broke on the last corner of the last lap.

“We got hosed down a couple of times from the start and an engine started going away,” Granet said. “We were propped too tall for the day. We knew we could pass them when we wanted, but blocking isn’t racing in powerboats.”

The dF Young and Goodboy Vodka/XINSURANCE teams raced each other hard around the 4.38-mile course, but when the two boats were battling en route to Key West Harbor, df Young was forced to make an evasive move and go inside of a safety buoy near the seawall because Granet didn’t want to get caught In the MTI’s roostertail, which could have sent his boat airborne within feet of the wall. That could have resulted in dire consequences.

“At some point, common sense has to override competition coming into the harbor,” Granet said. “That’s the one part of the course where you don’t play games.”

The df Young team wound up fourth and the team’s participation for Sunday was in doubt because it didn’t have a backup Stotler Racing engine.

Huski Chocolate unofficially took first in Class 1 followed by its other team boat and Good Boy Vodka/XINSURANCE unofficially. There were some questions about propeller blade thickness and other technical inspection details. If there are changes, Speedonthewater.com will update the results.

In their first Super Class outing, the CR Racing/XINSURANCE team of Casey Boaz and Rob Unnerstall had a strong showing.

The day wrapped up with nine boats in Super Cat and five in 450R Factory Stock class taking the course.

“We got a bad start and Chris held the boat straight,” Moore said. “We went between (CR Racing/XINSURANCE) and WHM Motorsports and got out to where the bump started and we got to the first turn first.”

As they have shown throughout the 2022 season, Moore and Grant thrived in the rough water. They got the setup as right as they could for conditions that Moore described as a “washing machine sh*!fest,” and pulled away from owner/throttleman Tyler Miller and driver Myrick Coil in the 38-foot Skater, M CON, who ran unopposed in second place.

Behind the two lead boats, there was plenty of competition. In the early going, owner/driver Billy Mauff and throttleman Jay Muller held third in the 40-foot Skater, WHM Motorsports. Attrition hit early taking out pre-race contenders Grant Bruggemann and owner Wayne Valder in the 42-foot MTI, CELSIUS, that most fans recognize as Pro-Floors Racing. Jax and Chase Muller had a good outing in their 40-foot Motion, Wicked, moving up to as high as fifth before having to pull off with mechanical issues.

In their first Super Cat race, throttleman Casey Boaz and drive Rob Unnerstall were campaigning the 38-foot Skater, CR Racing/XINSURANCE, that formerly ran as Performance Boat Center and Canada Homes. They worked their way up through the fleet to as high as third place before succumbing to mechanical issues. Proving that tenacity pays off in offshore racing, throttleman Jimmy McIntyre and driver Jason Ventura (stepping in for team owner John Paul Emmons) wound up third in Super Cat in the 38-foot Skater, Liquor Split. Vinnie Diorio and Simon Prevost experienced gremlins in their 39-foot Outerlimits, SV Offshore Racing, as did Cory Shantry and Richard Davis in the 38-foot Skater, Justice League.

In 450R Factory Stock, Ballough and driver Willy Cabeza jumped out to the early lead in their 39-foot MTI, GC Racing. Tomlinson and driver Taylor Scism ran second in TS Motorsports while owner Randy Keys and throttleman Billy Allen held third in KLOVAR Motorsports. Two new 38-foot Doug Wright catamarans, Gladiator-Canados and Launch Control, brought up the rear.

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Taylor Scism and John Tomlinson had their hands full against Willy Cabeza and Gary Ballough but prevailed in 450R Factory Stock.

Eventually, it was Scism’s driving experience that gave the TS Motorsports team the advantage over GC Racing as she and Tomlinson got around their competitors midway through the race.

“I just kept running as hard as I could until I got around them; we were running to turn one and Gary’s next to me and we take a flyer and he never left the water,” said Tomlinson, who was glad to see his longtime friend running well. “Good for Gary, but I needed to beat him.”

Ballough explained that the outgoing tide was running quite hard during the final race of the day.

“It stacked up just past the start-finish line,” he said. “It’s the experience that overrides your ego because you just say, ‘I could run out front a couple more laps,’ but it was over my comfort level. I have a new guy in a 450 boat and I need to keep my guy safe and happy so we can go to the next race.”

Allen and Keys broke a motor bracket in KLOVAR, but kept the boat running well enough to take the final podium spot. This puts them in position to challenge for the overall on Sunday once they get their boat fixed because of the double points that will be allocated on the second day of competition.

The biggest single-class fleet was in Super Stock, which had 13 catamarans ranging from 30 to 32 feet all powered by twin 300-hp Mercury Racing outboards. Two boats had the older V6 300XS two-stroke motors and the rest had the new V8 300R four-strokes.

Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping bested a dozen Super Stock teams to take the win.

Owner-throttleman Allen and driver Cody McDowell in their 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping, made the most of the inside lane getting out cleanly to the first turn. It’s well known that Allen likes rough water and Key West gave him what he wanted.

“We just needed some rough water and we got good air and had a good run,” said Allen, who was victorious in his boat that is powered by the two-stroke 300XS motors, which may have given him an advantage in terms of throttle response.

“They did pull real good—the boat’s always been real good,” added Allen, who plans to repower the boat with 300Rs for next season.

While Bruggemann and Kittredge appeared to get a good start in their 32-foot Doug Wright, Northwing, it was Ballough and Leibel who pulled out to an early lead in the 32-foot Victory, Big East Construction. Loren Peters and Anthony Smith Jr., and their Lake of the Ozarks-based 32-foot Doug Wright, LPC, ran third.

Attrition played a role early when Shaun Torrente and Sean Conner pulled into the pits in their recently acquired and completely updated 32-foot MTI catamaran, CMR Roofing. The same fate befell the 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Bermuda, after just one lap.

Offshore racing veteran Ryan Beckley was on the throttles with driver Chris Hopgood in the only other boat in the race with twin 300XS outboards, CELSIUS, and they ran to fourth place, making them a real threat for Sunday.

Two of the strongest-running boats in 2022, Performance Boat Center and Jackhammer had the biggest challenge from the start because they were in lanes 12 and 13. The Super Stock class has had a bit of reputation for not holding lane position in 2022, which led to collisions in a handful of races.

In Key West, the start went well with all the boats getting through the first turn cleanly. Driver Myrick Coil and throttleman Rusty Williams in Performance Boat Center were having trim problems so they fell off the pace and finished in the back of the pack. The 2022 national champions, Ricky Maldonado and owner/driver Reese Langheim, worked their way up through the fleet to as high as fourth or fifth in the 32-foot Victory, Jackhammer.

Then on the last lap, as Jackhammer was trying to get around Randy Sweers and Bryan Marquart in the 32-foot Doug Wright, PlayTradez, the latter took a flyer and hooked on re-entry. Jackhammer had nowhere to go and ran over the top of PlayTradez, which sustained significant damage. Both boats are doubtful for Sunday, but in a text to speedonthewater.com, Langheim said his boat will be ready to go.

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After PlayTradez got sideways on the last lap, the Jackhammer team had nowhere to go before colliding with PlayTradez.

The racing started at 10 a.m. Friday with 23 boats on the course to start the day. This included six boats in Stock V, three boats in Mod V and 14 in the bracket classes.

Another veteran throttleman took advantage of his experience in Key West when Steve Kildahl throttled the 29-foot Extreme, Boatfloater.com, with son Stephen driving to an unchallenged win in Mod V. One of the most snake-bitten boats in the sport, the popular 30-foot Phantom, Sheriff Lobo, spun early in the race and was on a fast towrope back to the pits. The 32-foot Phantom, 151 Express, with Nick Imprescia throttling and Ian Morgan driving, was down 700 rpm but finished the required laps to earn second place. A new engine was going into the boat for Sunday.

After Sheriff Lobo spun out, Boatfloater.com ran uncontested to Mod V victory.

In Stock V, Chris Colson and Raymond Evans took the early lead in their 30-foot Phantom, Shocker, but Fastboys teammates Ken Bolinger and Forrest Riddle methodically reeled them in and made the pass for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Shocker took second with Laticrete in third.

“We put a faster setup on and didn’t realize how rough it was out there and finally it came to us,” Bolinger said.

In Bracket 300, the Harpoon Harry’s team used the extra length of its 42-foot Fountain to take the win over Chad Woody and Billy Shipley in the 35-foot Fountain, Team Woody.

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Enjoy more action from yesterday’s Key West races in the slideshow above.

The Bracket 400 boats may have had the best ride except for the Class 1 boats as the 39-foot Velocity, GNS, took the win over the popular 42-foot Cigarette, Justice League.

In Bracket 500, Rob and Vinny Winoski looked to have things in hand in their 30-foot Phantom, Bronx Phantom, but the wily veteran team of Stancombe and driver J.J. Turk in Golfin’ Gator Team Woody, reeled them in and made the pass for the victory at the finish.

The hometown team, Powerhouse Racing, took the Bracket 600 win in their 25-foot Baja Outlaw and the 22-foot Velocity, Steele, ran unopposed in Bracket 700.

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