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Knucklehead Racing Battling Back From Adversity

Ed Smith, the owner of the Extreme V-class Knucklehead Racing team, has a simple goal for the 2021 season.

“I want to come out of the box in first place and stand there for the whole season,” he said during a recent interview.

Like the rest of the competitors in the offshore racing world, Smith, who drives the team’s well-known Fountain Powerboats V-bottom alongside ace throttleman Anthony Smith (the oldest son of Offshore Powerboat Association head Ed “Smitty” Smith), faced the frustration of a mostly cancelled 2020 season thanks to COVID-19. In the two of the three races last year that included the V-bottom classes—both in Morehead City, N.C.—Knucklehead Racing team ran uncontested to the checkered flag.

The Knucklehead Racing team is full speed ahead for the 2021 season. Photo from the 2020 Offshore Powerboat Association Crystal Coast World Championships by Pete Boden/copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

But Smith, who is 65 years old and lives in St. Clair, Mich., had a lot more on his plate than most of his fellow racers. In July 2020, he was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer. Rather than tell his teammates what was happening until he had no choice, he kept it to himself. He didn’t want to distract them from their purpose—to compete hard and win races.

Yet five days a week of radiation combined with one day a week of chemotherapy eventually became impossible to hide.

“The boat will race this year,” he eventually told his teammates. “Whether I’m in it or not, that boat will run.”

Smith, who is still battling the disease, has every intention of having the Knucklehead Racing team compete in as many events as possible this year. Chief mechanic Jim Spranger has been hard at work prepping the boat’s twin 900-hp Sterling Performance engines. Rich Quandt is on top of computer diagnostics, while fellow team member Jeff Diliberto has kept up with whatever fiberglass repairs have been needed as they are at the end of every season—even a short one. Shawn Smith, Ed’s son and the team’s backup throttleman, is ready to go if needed. Rich York handles the team’s myriad of “unseen details” while Julie Kimmell, who essentially functions as the team’s manager, pulls it all together while securing sponsors and handling travel arrangements.

“I’m just hoping everybody can get back to doing their thing, get back healthy, get in the boat and have a good safe season,” said Quandt. “It’s one of the strongest boats out there, so why not continue that tradition? Everybody wants Ed to get healthy and back in the seat. We are all pulling for him and will stand behind him in whatever he does.”

Like all members of the Knucklehead Racing team, Quandt would love to see more competition in the Extreme V class. As it currently stands, the category has just two teams, Knucklehead Racing and the Tug It/LSB team of throttleman Kevin Smith and Brit Lilly—and since their challenging 2019 debut in the class, Smith and Lilly, who also compete in the Pro Stock V ranks, have been mostly absent from Extreme V-class competition.

Ed Smith: “I’ve been racing long enough to do know if I can do the job or not.”

“The boat is not a question mark, the driver and the throttleman are not a question mark when they are in the boat,” said York. “The only thing we would be questioning is the competition. Once Ed is able to get in the boat and run it, I’m sure he’ll run it like he’s never run it before.”

That may take time as Smith, who has been competing for 26 years, is still battling the disease. If he’s not up to the task, he won’t hesitate to use a replacement driver. And, as always, he will be his own harshest critic.

“I’ve been racing long enough to do know if I can do the job or not,” said Smith. “I think I have one of the best mechanical teams, and my throttleman is the best. We have the best of the best so there’s no reason not to knock out everyone.”

Editor’s note: Evan Schunck is crew member of the Knucklehead Racing team. He has been with the team for two years.

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