The first two events of the year celebrating Mercury Racing’s 50th Anniversary—the V-10 400R outboard introduction at the Miami International Boat Show and the V-8 500R debut and gala in Charleston, S.C.—required an invitation. That was only appropriate given that both happenings involved new-product reveals for media members and boat builders.
But this weekend, the company is taking its 50th birthday bash public with the inaugural Midwest Challenge. Open to all offshore racing fans and random passersby, the celebration starts Friday with a block party in downtown Sheboygan, Wis., and will be followed Saturday and Sunday by powerboat races in the Formula One, Class 1, 450R Factory Stock and Super Stock classes.
Why those classes? All have engines from the Fond du Lac, Wis., company as spec power. Though the boat count is not official, there should be seven Class 1 teams, four to six 450R Factory Stock teams, as many as 12 Super Stock teams and eight Formula One tunnel boats competing this weekend.
“Mercury Racing is known to go above and beyond,” said Mike Yowaiski, a member of the Powerboat P1 livestream broadcast team that includes this reporter. “I don’t expect this event to be any different.”
Class 1 qualifying will kick off the weekend action.
Saturday’s action is slated to begin at 10 a.m. with a pole-position qualifying round for Class 1, followed by a practice session for Formula One from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The Formula One boat will compete in two separate heat races slated to be finished at noon ahead of an hour-long “military demonstration.” Racing will resume at 1:30 p.m. starting with Class 1 action. The 450R Factory Stock class green flag is scheduled to fly at 2:30 p.m., followed by the Super Stock contest at 3:30 p.m.
The action resumes Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with another Formula One class heat race. A Color Guard exhibition/opening ceremony will run from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and immediately will be followed by the Super Stock contest. After a military demonstration set to end at 1:30 p.m., the 450R Factory Stock teams will take to the course followed by Class 1 at 2:30 p.m. and the Formula One tunnel-boat final at 3:30 p.m. An award ceremony in the vendor area is set to start at 6 p.m.
All of the action will be broadcast live on the P1 Offshore Facebook page.
Asked what she’s most looking forward to about the Midwest Challenge, reigning 450R Factory Stock-class world champion Taylor Scism cited the weekend’s two-race format.
“I am looking forward to racing on back to back days, “ said the TS Motorsports team driver. “I also think it’s cool they have broken up everything into sections by class including testing. I have never seen it done like that and I am excited to participate.”
TNT Custom Marine’s John Tomlinson, her throttleman, agreed. “I like that it’s a double-race event,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to racing in a new venue.”
On Thursday before the races, competitors in town early will have the opportunity to tour the Mercury Racing facility, which typically does not offer tours of any kind to anyone, regardless of industry status.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to most,” said Brit Lilly, who drives the Class 1 Huski Ice Spritz raceboat with throttleman Steve Curtis and runs his own marine shop called Lilly Sport Boats in Arnold, Md.
Brit Lilly and Steve Curtis of the Huski Ice Spritz are ready for a strong performance at the Midwest Challenge.
Curtis said he is particularly ready to tackle the Sheboygan event.
“From my own perspective after finding the gremlin that has messed us up for the start of the season, I’m looking forward to getting back on a level playing field,” he explained. “It’s great to see the entire Class 1 fleet starting to come together.
“And watching different types of powerboat racing at the same venue should be really fun,” he added.
What should be even more fun for the multi-time world champion is watching the premiere of “In The Lead With Steve Curtis,” the second episode of season No. 3 of the documentary video series produced by Speed On The Water and Scrapyard Media. The video will air Thursday afternoon on the Speed On The Water YouTube channel.
Shaun Torrente Racing, which recently secured Allied Construction Management Systems as a new sponsor, is among the companies backing the upcoming Midwest Challenge video produced by Scrapyard Media and Speed On The Water.
During the Sheboygan event, the Scrapyard and Speed On The Water team will be capturing racing action and video interviews to chronicle the event—with a twist or two. A trio of Mercury Racing partners/dealers, MTI, Shaun Torrente Racing and TNT Custom Marine are sponsoring the video.
Said Super Stock-class racer Reese Langheim of the Jackhammer team, which comes into the Midwest Challenge with one first-place and two second-place finishes, “It’s not about racing. It’s about our big racing family coming together and it looks like Mercury is going to put on a heck of a show.”
Added his ever-practical wife, Sara Elizabeth, “And we get two days of racing. There’s so much prep that goes into a race weekend, so it’s nice to get two races out of all that work instead of just one.”
Like most competitors coming to the Midwest Challenge, Jackhammer team owners Reese and Sara Elizabeth are excited to have two Super Stock races in the same weekend.
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