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Offshore Legends And Marine Industry Giants Reunite In Old Friends Forever Reunion

With the Race World Offshore Key West World Championship happening this week, it was something of historic, karmic fate that the Old Friends Forever gang, a loosely organized group of offshore powerboat marine industry luminaries, gathered last weekend at Wilson Custom Marine in Palm City, Fla., for its 17th annual reunion. The event attracted the likes of Odell Lewis, John Conner, Allan “Brownie” Brown—who shared his stories in his tell-all book Tales from Thunderboat Row—Richie Powers, Bobby Saccenti, Jerry Kilpatrick, Sammy James, Bill Seebold, Gene Lanham, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Reid and many others.

The 17th annual Old Friends Forever reunion attracted some of the greatest individuals in the history of offshore powerboat racing and the high-performance marine industry. Photo courtesy/copyright Tonya Wollard

Of course, they regaled one another with fine tales for the early days of the sport and industry. Those stories included one about throwing people off a raceboat when they needed to pick up speed and tying a cord to the throttle from a broken carburetor and wrapping a rag around a slit throat. (In the interest of protecting the no-so-innocent and the undeniably guilty, the names of those particular storytellers have been withheld.)

This year, Mark Wilson of Wilson Custom Marine, and his father, Jackie, hosted the happening. Wilson made his own marine history through Twin Disc, as well as offshore racing with his son, Craig. Originally dubbed the Old Farts Forever reunion, the event has politely morphed into Old Friends Forever. It began in 2009 when Brown threw a party for about 250 of his closest friends at his best racing buddy, Davey Gillmore’s funeral. The event was hosted at Miss GEICO headquarters by then-team-owner John Haggin and then taken over by Jim Hauser, Steve Sirois (brother of the famed racer, Bill Sirois) and John “Cadillac” McDaniel.

During the years, the torch has been passed to others such as American Power Boat Association Offshore Racing Commission chairman Rich Luhrs to carry on the tradition. Now it rests with Wilson and Noel Scott, whose uncle got him involved in offshore racing.

When McDaniel hosted the event in 2011 on his waterfront property in Indiantown, Fla., some of the members of the group were still running raceboats. But at these reunions, mouths do all the running because they’re all about stories of days gone by. On hand this year was former Mercury Racing president Fred Kiekhaefer, who wore a limited-edition T-shirt that read, “Maybe I’ve Been To Lake X, Maybe I Haven’t.” And Kiekhaefer’s fashion statement elicited more than a few laughs during the affair.

“I love that I can give back to those who gave me jobs in the business—and took me to Europe for racing,” said McDaniel to this reporter. “I’m not an expert in rigging or anything, but I love that I could be a little part of what these guys have contributed to the sport and to support and relive their finest days.”

A few Old Friends Forever stalwarts including Charlie McCarthy of the Historic Offshore Race Boat Association and Luhrs, who is in Key West this week, couldn’t make it this this year. But offshore racers/marine industry veterans including Brett May, Gary Stray, David and Tonya Wollard, Jeff Hall, Vida Sirois, Patty James, Laurie Conner, “Apache LuSea,” Christine Sutphen, Dave Batzer, Christian Toll and others carried the torch.

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