Offshore racing is one of the few sports where we call each other family and really mean it. Particularly in Offshore Powerboat Association competition, there isn’t a single racer there who wouldn’t go far out of his or her way—with a smile—for another.
Need proof? Keep reading.
In offshore powerboat racing, your toughest competitors can become your best friends. Just ask Johnny Saris (left), Brian Williamson (center) and Jason Saris (right).
Several years ago when we built our Class 4 boat for the upcoming 2013 season we were a little nervous and uncertain about what we were getting into. We were used to a 10- to 15-boat average fleet size in Class 5 and had become extremely close with the people we raced against. Class 4 had a dwindling boat count and people we didn’t know nearly as well. It was like graduating high school and going to college.
That first year in Class 4 brought delivered great competition and friendship with the RnS Racing, Velocity Racing and Jersey Outlaw teams. But then, right before the August Long Beach, N.Y., race” word on the virtual street, or at least offshoreonly.com, that an “outlier” team, a Super Boat International Manufacturer Production 3 outfit—some guy from Massachusetts with a brand new 34-foot Phantom V-bottom—was going to come out and play.
We were staying competitive with RnS and Velocity in our 32-footer, but on paper at least this new team with it’s scary name was a class killer. Team owner Brian Williamson and the Perdition crew made a serious statement in the pits. They had a veteran throttle man in the “Bronx Phantom” Rob Winowski, a new state-of-the art hull and a seasoned driver in Williamson. They had it all. And they beat us. They beat everyone in their first race in the classs. From that moment on, one of the best rivalries in our current decade of offshore racing was born.
The next time we saw Perdition was at the OPA World Championships in 2014. Brian and Rob fought hard, very hard. The class was growing too. We had Wazzup, Simmons Marine, RnS Racing, Perdition, Erie Monster, Velocity and us. Wazzup had some ignition issues and Simmons broke out on the first day. The rest of the weekend Perdition and Saris Racing went at it, dominating the field. Ultimately, Perdition had an outdrive failure while leading the last race, yielding us the win, but it was still hard fought.
As our rivalry grew, so did our friendship. No matter who won, we all went out to dinner together after the race. From texts, emails, Facebook posts and general ball-busting and jousting, the camaraderie was and still is fantastic. Not a day goes by without a jab from us to them, or from them to us.
Eventually, Brian brought his engines and drives to us to have them rebuilt. During that involved day trips to Lake George with his lovely longtime girlfriend, Cindi, who has become part of the Saris family as well.
The camaraderie eventually grew to the level that where Brian decided he wanted to throttle his own boat and needed a driver, We recommended Joe Connally, who used to race with my father, Jason, and lives 100 yards down the road from us. So Perdition literally was going to invade our hometown—and that was OK. In fact, it was a welcome invasion.
Saris raced hard but lost to Perdition at the 2017 OPA World Championships. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
During the next few years, Perdition remained always hard-charging and relentless. But without a steady teammate Brian was always having to train a new driver, and that made the Saris Racing team tough to beat. Joe was great at the short courses but not available for some ocean races. I was fortunate enough to run with Brian at the 2017 Sarasota Grand Prix, another sign of what a tight group we had become. Although we won, Brian would still need an OPA driver.
Enter JJ Turk. JJ first ran with Brian on the SBI circuit when the boat was brand new. They had a strong connection. JJ and Brian took to the course this year in Englewood at the OPA Worlds and tore it up. Our team has never had to run so hard. We actually spun out in hot pursuit of them. Perdition went on to claim the Class 4 OPA World Championship, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
There are a few reasons this delighted me. One is that Brian’s boat has two Saris Racing Engines on board. (Who wouldn’t like seeing their equipment do well?) But In the bigger scheme of things, it’s simply this: In the past three or four years a serious friendship has grown out of a serious rivalry. The rivalry has grown in that Brian has been tweaking his setup, changing the boat, changing drivers, chasing the last few miles per hour, changing anything he thought might help to give him an edge. And it did. The first race in at the OPA Worlds in Englewood Beach, Fla., was a photo finish. In the second race, they dominated.
As for the friendship—back in September 2017, I hauled my pleasure boat from our home in New York to Massachusetts to hang out with Brian and Cindi. It was by far the best non-racing day on the water I’ve ever had. Brian showed me around his hometown with pride. Not only that, I slept at his house, ate his food and chilled with him and Cindi. When you spend high-quality, but totally relaxed time with the owner of the team that kicked your butt at a world championship, you know you’re with family.
A few weeks ago, Brian’s dog, Lake, died suddenly. Everyone on both teams loved that dog, but the loss dealt a heartbreaking blow to Brian. A few days later, he called my dad with a plan.
I had a gig with my band the next weekend. Brian told my dad that he wanted to bring Cindi up here and propose. The timing was right. It was what the family needed.
The plan unfolded perfectly. Brian said he wasn’t nervous until a few hours before popping the big question, but in the end it all went flawlessly. So our family grew last weekend. The Saris/Perdition rivalry will go on—and grow on—with Brian’s now fiancé, Cindi, on the team.
I don’t believe there are two teams out there with a greater friendship/rivalry bond than Perdition and Saris Racing. A few might match it, but none exceed it. As for the coming season, we know we’ll be battling with Perdition and Brian and the rest of the team know they’ll be battling with us.
And through it all, we know our bond and friendship will get stronger. We expect nothing less.
After all, on and off the racecourse, we’re family.
Editor’s Note: A frequent contributor to speedonthewater.com, veteran offshore racer Johnny Saris compete on the OPA circuit and covers its events for the website.