For the past two years, driving and throttling Old School, my 38-foot Cigarette Top Gun in offshore racing’s Bracket 400 class, has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my life. But, like all good things, it has to come to an end. We accomplished everything we set out to do and feel like we’re going out on top. Racing only allows two people to enjoy the boat—myself, and my navigator and uncle, Dan Soper. Meanwhile, my wife, Chelsi, and I are ready to move on and embrace our roots in the go-fast boating world again—casual days on the water with friends and occasional fun runs.
Competing in the 2020 Offshore Powerboat Association World Championships, Matt Soper’s 1988 model-year Cigarette 38 Top Gun brought home the first world title for the brand since 2002. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
Although it’s not my core reason for departing, offshore racing is expensive and major sponsors are few and far between. Additionally, logistics and travel inhale time. Racing was the easy part, though I’m still recovering from a back injury I sustained at the 2021 season opener in Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Every win we notched was a blessing and there were countless highpoints for our team. Clinching the Bracket 400 class OPA National Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., last year is among them, as was taking back-to-back Offshore Powerboat Association world titles, including an American Power Boat Association/Union Internationale Motonautique world championship last year in Englewood Beach, Fla.
After two seasons with that kind of track record, I asked myself: What better time to exit the sport?
The battle between the Old School Cigarette and the Predator Apache—captured here at the first race of the 2021 season in Cocoa Beach, Fla.—was the most compelling storyline of the Bracket 400 class last year.
Our rivalry last season with Team Predator (the 41-foot Apache) was simply incredible and we will always cherish it. We have great respect for that team. Predator is the most winning raceboat of the Apache brand, while Old School is one of Cigarette’s fastest conventional V-bottom Top Guns ever built. I can only hope the season-long battle between our two teams was as fun for the fans as it was for us.
If I have any regrets, it’s that Old School and Predator didn’t get to square off at the world championships in Key West, Fla., but it wasn’t meant to be.
One moment I’ll never forget is right after clinching the world championship in Englewood Beach (Fla.) last year, Jason Saris of Saris Racing Engines, a veteran offshore racer and a legend in the Bracket 400 class, approached me. He said, we ran “the perfect race” and told me they had done everything they could to pass us but couldn’t. As a big fan of Team Saris, and coming from the likes of Jason himself, it was the best compliment a fellow racer could ever give or receive. It reinforced the fact that “we did it” against the very best in the world.
The Old School team delivered plenty of memories for its fans and fellow competitors.
Another moment I’ll never forget came after our first world championship win in 2020. Skip Braver, the then owner of Cigarette Racing Team, called me out of the blue to congratulate our team and thanked us for “keeping the heritage of Cigarette Racing alive.” I could not have been more humbled by or grateful for that call. As the owner of the world’s most iconic powerboat brand, Mr. Braver really understood the level of perseverance, skill and passion it took to do what our team had done. Under his leadership, Cigarette Racing thrived, and we were very proud to represent Cigarette on the racecourse.
We hoped to continue our strong ties to the brand under its new management after the sale of Cigarette Racing in 2021. Despite our many efforts, we are disappointed that we were unable to cultivate a relationship.
Matt Soper and his uncle, Dan Soper, quickly became fan favorites at offshore racing events such as Lake Race in Central Missouri. Photo by Jeff Helmkamp/Helmkamp Photos
In just two years, with back-to-back world championship titles, we created a lifetime of memories and in our own small way—became a part of offshore racing history. We have nothing left to prove.
What are the odds we’ll come out of retirement? Well, never say never, but we have no plans to race again. We couldn’t have asked for a better run. It’s time for someone else to claim the 2022 world title in the Bracket 400 class. Of course, their odds are much higher without Old School in the mix.
Fans local to Northern Michigan can catch Old School on display this summer at the Boyne Thunder Poker Run street show in Boyne City on Friday, July 8th.
Though we will miss our fellow competitors and fans, it’s time for us to slow down and enjoy family time aboard Old School in the crystal clear waters of Northern Michigan.
Literally and figuratively at the center of the Old School team, captured here in Morehead City, N.C., after winning the OPA Bracket 400-class world title, Matt and Chelsi Soper are heading to the pleasure-boat world.