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New Teams And Endless Enthusiasm: Inside Thunder On Cocoa Beach

United Kingdom-based offshore racing veteran Miles Jennings, who will throttle the Zabo Racing team catamaran in this Sunday’s Thunder On Cocoa Beach contest—the season-opener for the six-race American Power Boat Association Offshore Championship Series—perfectly summed up the general vibe in this famed Florida beach town as he checked in at the dry pits with race officials this afternoon.

“Everyone here is so enthusiastic and friendly, and the atmosphere is great,” he said.

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Meet the new C.J. Grant Racing team of (from left) driver/owner Chris Grant, throttleman Ken Jensen and crew chief Mike Dilapo.

In short, Cocoa Beach is buzzing with energy from teams—and close to 70 reportedly have arrived so far. The vibe could not be more upbeat in advance of the first race of the APBA series, which is being produced in a collaboration between the Offshore Powerboat Association and Powerboat P1.

“It’s been a long time coming but we finally made it happen,” said Ed “Smitty” Smith, the president OPA, with a broad grin. “Now we have to build on it and keep rolling.”

“These are exciting times for racing,” said Azam Rangoonwala, Smith’s Powerboat P1 counterpart. “We have more here that have been at this venue in a long time, more boats that have been at any venue in a long time. We have five boats in Class One Unlimited. We have six in the Super Cat class. And in some of the other classes like Super Stock and Pro Stock V we will have over 10 boats.

“It’s all a work in progress with two organizations working together for the first time, but everyone has bonded,” he continued. “Everyone is staying positive and going with the flow. Everyone is on the same page. That’s what I’m really excited about.”

In addition to almost every significant offshore racing team in the country, there are some new faces here. Notable among them is the C.J. Grant Racing team out of Toronto, Canada, which purchased the former 42-foot MTI Warpaint Super Cat-class raceboat earlier this year.

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Flanked by organizers Heidi Bartlett of Thunder On Cocoa Beach and Lucy Nicandri of the Sarsotoa Powerboat Grand Prix, Powerboat P1’s Azam Rangoonwala was all smiles today as more than 60 teams arrived in the dry pits.

Team owner Chris Grant will drive the boat, which he bought from Bob Vesper, its previous owner. Well-known in poker-run circles, Ken Jensen, who runs the equally well-known Disturbing Behavior go-fast pleasure Nor-Tech catamaran, will throttle. Mike Dilapo is the seven-member team’s crew chief. Grant’s wife, Jennifer, is the team manager.

Also on board with the program is Raymond Roberts of Double-R Performance of Toronto. Involved in the project from the start, Roberts is providing stateside storage and maintenance space for the team at a facility he owns in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I have always wanted to do this since I bought my Fountain six years ago,” said Grant. “I have been following offshore racing for years and it was on my to-do list. Then this boat came up.”

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In addition to running a successful Super Cat campaign, Performance Boat Center has joined the Super Stock ranks.

The CG Racing team, which plans to run all six races in the series as well as the November Key West, Fla., races being produced by Race World Offshore, has twin Sterling Performance Engines under the hatches—and another pair in its support trailer.

“I have never been in this boat before and never raced before, so we are going to take a soft approach,” said Jensen. “We’re racing against veterans here and we don’t want to be nuisance out there. We’re just going to the run the boat and see what we can do.”

Added Grant, “The guys in this class have been so welcoming and unselfish that it’s actually made me feel calmer. The boat is set up perfectly—I had a chance run it with Raymond Roberts a few weeks ago. I feel great about it.”

Checkout the slideshow today for images from the dry pits in Cocoa Beach.

Still another notable new team—this one joining the Super Stock-class outboard engine-powered catamaran ranks—is Performance Boat Center. The Osage Beach, Mo., dealership-backed campaign did a great job of keeping its plans a canopied 32-foot Doug Wright catamaran it owns very quiet. But now that it’s in the pits just a few yards away from its brand-new Super Cat-class MTI catamaran it’s no secret.

Veteran racer and world champion Myrick Coil, the driver of the new Performance Boat Center MTI cat, will throttle the 32-footer. Rookie Rusty Williams, who like Coil works for Performance Boat Center, will drive it.

Tonight’s street party in downtown Cocoa Beach will bring fans and racers together is an even bigger way than last night’s welcome party at Juice ‘N Java did, and that bash saw a couple of hundred people attend. Thunder On Cocoa Beach executive director Kerry Bartlett said he expects 2,000 to 3,000 people to join in tonight’s celebration.

“We finally—finally—have everyone racing together,” said Steve Curtis, the throttleman for Miss GEICO, during last night’s event. “It’s really exciting.”

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