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HomeRacingRacingsOn Scene: Fathers And Sons Triumph At Atlantic City Grand Prix

On Scene: Fathers And Sons Triumph At Atlantic City Grand Prix

When a father-and-son team makes its offshore racing debut, it’s wise for the team members to be discreet and only whisper to a reporter what the boat name RUFSTR means.

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In RUFSTR, the Salamones made the podium in their first race. All photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Image

“This will be as much a learning experience as a race for us,” said Ken Salamone, who raced cars and motorcycles in his younger days, as he prepared to throttle his first-ever powerboat race in the RUFSTR team V-bottom with his 17-year old son, E.J., behind the wheel in yesterday’s Atlantic City Grand Prix. “We’re really racing against ourselves. Our goal is to just finish. If we finish safely, it will be a great success.”

“I’m sure he means it,” said E.J. Salamone. “But he’s a very competitive person, who doesn’t like to lose. We just want to get seat time and work our way up. Our goal is to be competitive next year.”

While the term “racing family” has become almost cliché, there are a healthy number of father-and-son teams competing on the Offshore Powerboat Association circuit this year. The Salamones are just the newest one.

Despite their inexperience racing together, the Salamones managed to fight off deceptively gnarly 3-foot seas that produced deep—and unexpected—holes in the Atlantic Ocean along the New Jersey Shore. In the air almost as much as they were in the water, the pair from Greenwich, Conn., who boat on New York’s Lake George, picked their way through the pack to finish third in OPA Class 5—a podium their first time out. A dazed and delighted E.J. Salamone clutched the trophy they earned close to his chest after the race.

“I’m unbelievably happy right now—our first time out—I’m speechless,” he said. “It was so rough out there, and we worked so well together to keep the boat in the water as much as possible. It was the roughest water we’ve ever seen.”

His father gave all credit to his driver. “I’m so incredibly proud of him right now,” said Ken Salamone. “He was so much better than me out there.”

Both said they are eager for their next OPA race in St. Clair, Mich. And since they beat half the Class 5 field, it’s safe to reveal the whispered meaning of the boat name: RUFSTR. It doesn’t mean not “roughster,” as you might guess at a glance. Think Internet shorthand, as in “Are you faster?” In yesterday’s race, all but two other boats in the class were not.

The Salamones were inspired to race boats by Jason and Johnny Saris of the Saris Racing Engines team. The father-and-son team took the 2013 Class 4 OPA Championship and repeated this year as winners of the Atlantic City Grand Prix with navigator/crew chief Verne French on board.

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Saris Racing Engines repeated its 2013 Atlantic City Grand Prix success with another win yesterday.

“When you get to a certain age, it’s hard to spend time with your kids,” Jason Saris said. “But our quality time starts the minute we get in the truck to head to a race. How many fathers get hours of time sitting and talking with their son?”

His son agreed—sort of. “Yes, that’s quality time because it means the boat is done and we are headed for a race, but working on it at 2 a.m.,” said Johnny Saris. “That’s not so much quality time.”

Jason Saris started boat racing in 1982. The pair joined forces in 2009 and never looked back. The father-and-son dynamic—and there’s plenty of easygoing, snarky banter between the two—disappears in the boat.

“He’s been racing longer than he has been my father,” said Johnny Saris. “He’s a great dad and an excellent throttleman, and he is one of the few people I feel completely safe getting in the boat with. It was a rougher race than last year, and the repeat is extra sweet.

“To come back after barely winning last year and do it again, is pretty cool,” he added.

Even though they were denied a podium finish in Atlantic City, it was tough to ignore the father-and-son team of Art and Brit Lily in the Lily Sport Boats V-bottom. There’s nearly not enough bandwidth to cover Art Lily’s resume in more than 30 years of racing. And with his son alongside him now in the cockpit, his record of success continues to grow. The Lilys began racing “seriously” together in 2013 and were serious enough to capture the 2013 Super Vee Lite Championship title.

Brit Lily grew up around racing and started squirreling away parts for a fantasy future engine build when he worked in dad’s shop as a teenager.

“To grow up knowing your dad is the best at something, knowing people would love to have him throttle their boat, all I ever wanted to be was a throttleman,” he said. “But driving for him is very exciting.”

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Lily Sport Boats didn’t earn a podium finish in its class, but Art and Brit Lily will be a team to watch in the OPA. Super Vee Lite class this season. 

While Art Lily shares the concerns of the other offshore racing dads about keeping their sons safe in the cockpit, he dealt with it in a slightly different manner. During their inaugural race in 2007, the elder Lily directed his son to hold his lane while other boats were trying to cut them off.

“I told him, ‘If I do, I’ll hit him,'” Brit Lily recalled. “He told me, ‘Put it there.'”

Art Lily laughed at his son’s recollection of their first race.

“I guess I taught him the ‘bully method’ right off,” he said. “I told him, ‘Son, if you don’t hit him now, they’ll think they can bully you all over the course.’ We didn’t hit, but we did win.”

That they didn’t get to climb the podium this year wasn’t relevant. Like the other father-and-son teams that tackled the Atlantic City Grand Prix, the Lilys were winners before they even got into their boat.

Editor’s Note: Speedonthewater.com extends heartfelt thanks to correspondent Tony Esposito and photographer Tim Sharkey for their outstanding coverage of last weekend’s Atlantic City Festival of Speed.

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