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OPA Worlds Attract 61 Teams To Morehead City

Despite an endless string of event cancellations, Ed “Smitty” Smith—the president of the New Jersey-based Offshore Powerboat Association—never gave up on the 2020 offshore racing season. Smith is tenacious, passionate and persuasive. For many good reasons, the OPA faithful believe in him. They expect him to come through.

Chased hard by Phase5, the Super Stock the Super Stock-class team owner/driver Reese Langheim and throttleman Ricky Maldonado notched their first win since joining forces in Jackhammer, a 32-foot Victory catamaran. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

And that’s exactly what he did when Englewood Beach, Fla., the five-year home of the OPA World Championships, ended up on the COVID-19 chopping block. Wasting no time, Smith reached out to Jeff McCann, the lead organizer of last month’s OPA Crystal Coast Grand Prix in Morehead City, N.C. Within a few days, this weekend’s OPA Crystal Coast World Championships, which kicked off today with four races on the 4.5-mile, multi-turn course, were officially on the schedule.

Spread across 10 classes, 61 teams registered and showed up for the event, nearly doubling the combined total from the Crystal Coast Grand Prix and Offshore At The Ozarks in Central Missouri, though that event was limited to the Supercat and Super Stock classes. Even Smith is impressed with this weekend’s turnout.

“This place is slammed with boats,” he wrote in a text message to this reporter last night.

Evil Ways prevailed in the ultra-competitive Class 7 ranks.

Today’s racing began with Class 7, Class 5 and Modified-V class action. Evil Ways bested eight other Class 7 teams to take the checkered flag in its three-lap 16.25-mile contest. Though Shoreline Plumbing ran away with much of the eight-boat, six-lap 29.77-mile Class 5 race, the boat broke in the final laps and Agora Day Spa took the checkered flag. But the real battle was between Bronx Phantom and Reindl Powerboats, which finished second and third.

In the four-team Modified-V-class race, Brian Forehand got off to his usual hard-charging start in the 29-foot Marker 17 Marine Outerlimits. But running neck and neck with throttleman Steve Miklos and driver Steve Fehrmann in Sun Print, a 29-foot Extreme, Forehand spun out near the end of the first lap of the eight-lap, 38.75-mile contest and did not return to the course. Forehand’s mishap helped open the door for Miklos and Fehrmann, who finished behind the Marker 17 Marine pilot on the same course last month, to take the win.

Though Sun Print’s Miklos and Fehrmann took first place today in the Modified-V class, they know Marker 17 Marine will come back to challenge them on Sunday.

“Brian is a hard-charger so we have to charge hard, too,” said Miklos. “He was behind us by maybe a second when he spun. He was right there—it was by no means settled. It was a good, clean race.

“This is a good course in a great town,” he continued. “It’s a driver’s course. We’re going to look at the data and try to find some more speed in testing tomorrow. We know Brian will come faster. We know he’ll be coming hard. That’s just who he is.”

The second race of the day featured Class 4 with six boats and Class 6 with 12 boats. As with all of this weekend’s races, starts for each class were staggered. Good to its name, Rum Runner ran away from the Class 6 fleet for the five-lap, 25.25-mile contest. The black-hulled Reindl Powerboats entry finished first in the eight-lap 38.75-mile Class 4 competition, but reportedly hit a buoy. Pending official verification, that error would place Team Woody as today’s Class 4 winner.

The Rum Runners team delivered a dominant Performance over 11 Class 6 competitors.

The third race of the day began with an early mishap in Class 3 that saw another Reindl Powerboats team spin and eject both occupants between turns No. 3 and No. 4. Though both the driver and throttleman were not seriously injured, the race had to be red-flagged while the swamped boat was recovered and hauled off the course.

Sharing the course with Class 3, down to the Strictly Business and Team Woody after the Reindl Powerboats mishap, was the nine-boat Pro Stock V class. (Strictly Business broke down, leaving Team Woody to take the Class 3 checkered flag.) The Done Deal/Chopper Propellers team of throttleman Steve Papp and driver Charlie McCarthy led the eight-lap, 38.75-mile from start to finish. Chasing hard in their first Pro Stock V contest of the year, the LSB/Hurricane of Awesomenes team of Brit Lilly and Kevin Smith managed to get past the North Myrtle Beach RV Resort team, but didn’t have enough speed to catch, much less threaten, the Done Deal cockpit crew.

Done Deal’s performance made the Pro Stock V-class contest a battle for second place.

Though seven teams started the Super Stock-class contest, all eyes were on throttleman Shaun Torrente and driver Eric Belisle of the new STR team. Of the three races Torrente, the defending back-to-back F1H2O tunnel-boat series world champion, and his rookie driver have entered, they’ve won twice and finished second once. But it wasn’t to be as, after establishing a big lead, the 32-foot Doug Wright STR cat pulled to the center of the course to with a mechanical issue with its port engine created by water contamination in the port fuel tank.

With STR out of the hunt, the nine-lap, 43-25-mile Super Stock race for the checkered flag boiled down to the Jackhammer and Phase5 teams. Running a 32-foot Victory catamaran, the Jackhammer cockpit pairing of driver/owner Reese Langheim and throttleman Ricky Maldonado held off stiff competition from Phase5 team of driver/owner Albert Penta and veteran throttle Jay Muller in its 32-foot Doug Wright.

The result was more than the first checkered flag for the Jackhammer team, which finished second in the second day of racing at Offshore At The Ozarks earlier this month. It was an incredible reversal of fortune for the hardworking team, which founded itself upside down in the first turn on the first lap of last month’s Morehead City contest.

“Our setup up was perfect and our crew really came together to make it happen,” Langheim said. “We thought everybody was right behind us so we just kept running a nice, clean race. Eventually, we spread out a bit but we could see Phase05 starting to catch up.

“We wanted this and we worked out butts off to make it happen,” he continued. “We’ll test tomorrow, but we have to wait to see what Sunday’s weather will be like before we finalize our setup for that race.”

Check out the slideshow above to check out more action from the first day of the OPA Crystal Coast World Championships.

Added Maldonado, “We came here with the goal to be on the podium, but a win is a blessing. After all the hard work for the past few months we finally put one together. It’s also the first win for a Victory Team X-Cat hull in the U.S. They built us an incredible boat that deserves what we were able to accomplish today. We know what we need for Sunday.”

In their strong second outing—Penta and Muller claimed second place overall in Offshore at the Ozarks, which was their first race together—the Phase05 cockpit duo finished second with Loren Peters and Mike Wright taking third their 32-foot LPC Doug Wright catamaran.

The final race of the day saw the first Class 1 competition of the year. Though Miss GEICO throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly shared the cockpit of the team’s 47-foot Victory catamaran at the Crystal Coast Grand Prix in September and Offshore At The Ozarks earlier this month, they ran uncontested in both contests. Today’s Class One race saw Miss GEICO face competition in the form of Talisman, a 40-foot Platinum catamaran that formerly ran as Alex and Ani. Curtis and Lilly prevailed easily in the 12-lap, 56.75-mile race over the Talisman cockpit crew of Jimmy Cazzani and Herb Stotler.

“It’s now my third time behind the wheel of Miss GEICO, so each time I’ve gotten in the boat, it has been about building more confidence,” said Lilly. “I’m focused on building trust in the cockpit with Steve Curtis and crew chief, Gary Stray. Having competition in Class 1 today was a big help in my learning experience, and performance as a driver— it’s not even fair to compare my first drive in Miss GEICO to today. I couldn’t be happier with how it went.”

Miss GEICO’s Steve Curtis and Brit Lilly had no trouble taking down the first Class 1 competitor they’ve faced this season.

All races today were for full. Full points also will be awarded in Sunday’s longer contests. All results are unofficial pending verification from OPA. For complete results as they become available, visit the OPA website.

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