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OPA Worlds Day 1—Jumpstarting the Recovery

When Hurricane Ian hit the southwest coast of Florida on September 28, one of the areas struck hard was Englewood Beach. Since then, the town of about 19,300 residents has been busy repairing their homes, cleaning up their yards and getting closer to back to normal.

One annual event that has been part of “normal” for the town for the past eight years is the Offshore Powerboat Association world championships. After Ian hit, the race scheduled for October 6 weekend in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., had to be canceled because of the devastation caused in that area and most people assumed the same fate awaited the OPA season finale.

On the first day of the Offshore Powerboat Association’s world championships, spirited action throughout the day entertained the locals and helped them forget the havoc that Hurricane Ian wrought on the area. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

OPA president Ed “Smitty” Smith contacted the powers that be in Englewood Beach and the two parties agreed that if the world championships could be held, it could be beneficial for the area. Smith said that when Englewood officials surveyed the residents, 98 percent said they wanted the racing teams to come.

“I was scared to come here,” said Elijah Kingery, who is from Ohio and drives the 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof/Goodcars.com, in Bracket 500 class. “If I lost my house and a boat crew came to my town to race, I’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But we haven’t met one person who’s mad that we’re here.”

So 46 offshore powerboat racing teams made their way to Englewood and the turnout at the Friday night block party showed that they made the right decision. Part of OPA’s goal of coming to the town was to help with the revival of the local economy.

“That’s why we came,” said John Tomlinson, throttleman for the TS Motorsports team in 450R Factory Stock class. “At the block party, people weren’t talking about the storm. They were asking about the boat and absolutely said they wanted us to be here and get back to some kind of normalcy.”

Based on the crowds on the Englewood beach front on Saturday, the locals needed the distraction. Temperatures were in the mid to high 70s and a northeasterly breeze kept the fans comfortable. The course served up about a 1-foot roller with some wind-blown chop on top that was enough to keep the in-boat crews paying attention. The weather is expected to take a turn for worse today, so the teams that finished well on Saturday could have an edge, although double points will be up for grabs on the final day of the 2022 offshore powerboat racing season.

In the final race of the day, the biggest, fastest boats hit the course. Owner/driver Jeff Stevenson and throttleman Micheal Stancombe in the 42-foot MTI, JBS Racing, ran unopposed in the Unlimited class so they put on a show for the fans racing against owner/driver Ed Smith and throttleman Anthony Smith in the 38-foot Fountain, Knucklehead Racing, that also ran alone in Extreme Vee class. The 38-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran, Justice League, with Bobby Adams and Richie Davis ran unopposed as well in Super Cat. During the Saturday night awards ceremony, JBS Racing and Knucklehead were awarded the OPA national championships in their classes.

Additionally, Stancombe, who has been in Southwest Florida since the day Hurricane Ian hit helping those in need, was surprised by a commemorative plaque from the organizers of the Roar Offshore Fort Myers Beach, which was canceled after the storm. It read, “Presented to: Micheal Stancombe and the Offshore Army. In recognition of your dedication to the people of Southwest Florida and tireless efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ian. You will always be a champion in our hearts.”

Mostly flat water was the order of the day for the first round of OPA Worlds competition in Englewood Beach.

But there was more.

“On behalf of Avalon Pontoons and WMF Watercraft, Roar Offshore donated $15,000 to Waterfest’s Southwest Florida hurricane relief fund,” said Tim Hill, the lead organizer and driver behind Roar Offshore Fort Myers Beach. “This was Avalon WMF’s sponsorship to the 2022 Roar Offshore event.”

Tomlinson joined driver Taylor Scism in the 39-foot MTI, TS Motosports, in the 450R Factory Stock class. The duo had won the Race World Offshore world championship in Key West last week and was looking to build on its momentum in Englewood. They were racing against throttleman Gary Ballough and driver Willy Cabeza in another 39-foot MTI, GC Racing, and against throttleman Michel Karsenti and driver Ervin Grant in the 38-foot Doug Wright, Gladiator. All boats in the class are powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R outboards.

Key West had been the first race for the Gladiator boat, but Tomlinson knew Karsenti is a veteran who would make improvements for Englewood. “I don’t underestimate anybody because as soon as you do, you’ll get your butt kicked,” Tomlinson said. “I did all I could to keep him at a bay.”

At the start, TS Motorsports and GC Racing took the early lead with Gladiator getting settled in third. The four-mile course had seven turns, including something the teams don’t often experience, a left-hand dogleg. The 450R Factory Stock boats ran 11 laps as did the Vee Extreme while Unlimited and Super Cat ran 13 laps.

Gladiator chased hard but the first 450R Factory Stock race of the weekend went to TS Motorsports.

About midway through the race, Gladiator got around GC Racing, which simply didn’t have enough propellers in the trailer to make the right choice. Then Karsenti and Grant set their sights on TS Motorsports. At 38 and 39 feet long, the 450R Factory Stock boats were long enough to better span the holes the teams encountered on various parts of the course. With some skilled driving by Scism to maintain her line, she and Tomlinson earned the hard-fought win on day one. Because Gladiator missed a buoy, GC Racing took second.

The Super Stock race was a two-boat contest as a pair of 32-foot Doug Wright catamarans battled the course and each other. Initially, Team Bermuda, with driver David Selley and throttleman Steven Bridges took the lead in their boat powered by twin Mercury Racing 300R outboards. As the race wore on, CoCo’s Monkey with the father-son team of AJ and Pete Bogino, reeled in the Bermudans and took the win with a pair of Mercury 300XS two-strokes. It’s pretty likely that the Boginos are happy to be anywhere but their home in upstate New York that is experiencing a severe blizzard.

Tomlinson and Scism won the Union Internationale Motonautique and American Powerboat Association 450R Factory Stock world championship in Key West. If they win Sunday in Englewood, they will claim the OPA World Championship for the class. The same goes for the Super Stock class. Because Sunday is double points, either Team Bermuda or CoCo’s Monkey can claim the OPA world title.

For the Mod V, Stock V and Bracket classes, UIM/APBA world titles will be handed out in Englewood. Saturday’s race helped determine the OPA national champions that were recognized that evening and the world titles will be handed out after Sunday’s race. The combined points from Saturday and Sunday will determine the world champions.

Because the Mod V class was only a two-boat race, it gave the eventual winner, Sunprint, a chance to try something different.

“We saw an opportunity to do something we wanted to try that we wouldn’t normally risk in a race,” said owner/throttleman Steve Miklos.

Miklos and driver Steve Fehrman pulled out to an early lead in their 30-foot Extreme ahead of the 30-foot Phantom, Relentless, with throttleman Charlie McCarthy and driver Travis Petko.

The crew in the latter may have gotten a little too relentless when they came out of turn one at the southern end of the course. They stood the boat nearly straight up and stuffed, bringing an early end to their day. The boat sustained some damage, but the team said it is planning to make repairs and try to race on day two. After completing some more laps, Miklos and Fehrman pulled off to save the equipment and be ready to run on Sunday.

Also on the course with the Mod Vs were the four boats that made up the Bracket 400 class and the lone competitor in Bracket 300, Brothers Racing.

When the green flag flew, the 41-foot Apache, Predator, roared to the lead with driver Dean Stahlman, throttleman Nate Hunt and navigator Ryan Stahlman. They led over the 33-foot Cobra, Saris Racing, with throttleman Jason Saris, driver Johnny Saris and navigator Verne French. The 34-foot Phantom, Cape Haze Marine, with driver Mark Robbins, throttleman Damon Marotta and navigator Cynthia Belfatto, ran third followed by Chad Woody and Billy Shipley in the 29-foot LaveyCraft, Team Woody.

Running their unmistakable 41-footer, the Predator team took the win in the Bracket 400 contest.

As the race wore on, the first- and second-place boats held station. “(Predator) is just a big boat and I couldn’t go through the turns as smoothly,” said Johnny Saris. “We picked up a little and lost a little, so we just settled into a rhythm.”

In the final tally, Predator took the pink and white checkered flag followed by Saris Racing and the smallest boat in the class, Team Woody.

Five boats took to the course in Stock V. Originally, OPA officials planned to run the two entries in Bracket 300 with the Stock Vs, but the 35-foot Fountain, Team Woody, had to scratch for Saturday because of carburetor issues so the Stock V boats had the course to themselves.

From the start, throttleman Jay Muller and owner/driver Brit Lilly blasted to the lead in the 30-foot Extreme, LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness. Initially, the 30-foot Phantom, North Myrtle Beach RV Resort, with driver Kirk Hanna and throttleman Mark Rinda ran second and the 30-foot Extreme, Twisted Vee, with throttleman Travis Pastrana and driver Jim York ran third. OPA president/driver Ed Smith and son Anthony ran fourth in their 30-foot Phantom, Wazzup. The 30-foot Phantom, Shocker, with driver Chris Colson and throttleman Patrick Romeo ran fifth. Their boat was involved in a collision in Key West and had been repaired to make the Englewood race.

Brit Lilly and Jay Muller dominated the Stock V field in LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness.

As Pastrana continues to improve as a throttleman, he’s keeping the running more level and keeping the propeller in the water. He and York passed NMBRV for second, but there was no catching Muller and Lilly in LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness who had checked out.

Wazzup worked its way up to third and was looking to challenge Twisted Vee for second when Wazzup hooked and came off plane late in the race. This gave Twisted Vee the cushion it needed to hold second, while LSB captured the checkered flag.

After being part of the Class 1 team that captured the season-long championship, Lilly followed it up with a dominant performance on Saturday in Englewood. “I’m glad we won and super pumped for Travis and Jim,” Lilly sid.

Added Pastrana, “That was so much fun. It was the first time I didn’t mess up the start.” The team is gaining followers on YouTube for its wild in-cockpit videos and Pastrana said a conservative approach helped him and York maintain the runner-up finish.

“We try to run aggressively and this time we said, ‘Let’s just be consistent,’” Pastrana said. “That was the most fun I had in the boat.”

Travis Pastrana and Jim York had a wild time on their way to a second-place finish.

In the second race of the day, 13 boats took to the course in Bracket 500 and 600 classes. Bracket 600 is limited to 70 mph while Bracket 500 is 75 mph.

On the second lap of the Bracket 600 race, the 25-foot Baja, Powerhouse Racing, hooked in turn one, ejecting one crew member. The boat went airborne in front of the 26-foot Scarab, No Sharks Unsalted.

“When they hooked, the next thing I know, the Baja launched and I saw the word ‘Powerhouse’ above my head,” said Fran Vellutato, throttleman for Rum Runner.

Vellutato and driver Michael McCoglan continued in the race and their boat had minimal damage. They wound up second to Johnny Saris and driver Michael Lang in the 26-foot Sutphen, Moderation. Third in Bracket 600 went to Pete and Rich Smith in the 26-foot Joker, Smith Brothers CRC.

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Enjoy more of yesterday’s offshore racing action from Englewood Beach in the slideshow above.

After the race, Saris complimented his driver, saying, “Mike did an excellent job and the boat ran like a top.”

Because of the spin-out, the race was red-flagged and the teams had to return to their milling areas to await the restart. In Bracket 500, owner/driver Brent Appiarius and throttleman Jason Saris took the lead in the 30-foot Superboat, Shoreline Plumbing. Pulling double-duty, Stancombe throttled the 30-foot Phantom, Golfin’ Gator Team Woody, with driver J.J. Turk in second. The team of driver Kingery and throttleman Craig Belfatto ran third in the 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof/Goodcars.com.

Attrition struck the Shoreline Plumbing team when it pulled into the center of the course and then had to get a tow quickly because the 30-foot Superboat appeared to be taking on water. Not long after, Team Woody pulled off while leading because it ran out of fuel. This put Bulletproof/Goodcars.com in the lead in Bracket 500.

Stancombe had to ask his competition for a ride so he could get back into the pits to get in for the Unlimited class race in JBS Racing.

“I told him I’d give him a ride as long he holds my checkered flag for me,” said Kingery with a laugh.

Ever the good sport, Stancombe held his competition’s flag the whole ride into the pits.

Ironically, Bulletproof/Goodcars.com wound up exceeded the Bracket 500 mandated top speed of 75 mph, handing the win to Golfin’ Gator Team Woody. “I told him, ‘I want my flag back,” Stancombe said.

Second went to driver Jimmy Wessel and throttleman Rob Goodwin in the Reindl One Design, Cigar Master, while driver Ervin Grant and throttleman Mark DiDario in Team Farnsworth finished third.

The Bracket 700 class usually delivers a few high-flying moments, and yesterday’s contest was no exception.

In the first race of the day, nine boats made up the Bracket 700 race. From the start, James Jaronczyk and driver Dylan Gold moved to the front in the 22-foot Progression, Nauti Boyz. They were followed closely by their Long Island, N.Y., compatriots Joe Rielly and Joe Rielly Jr. in their 22-foot Progression, Team Progression. Owner/builder/designer Derek Dawson and Beau Purtle ran third in the 22-foot Punisher that Dawson named Punisher for the weekend. Unfortunately, the second- and third-place boats broke out of the 60-mph bracket and were moved down in the standings. Second went to the Lauer Brothers in the 21-foot Battlewagon, Goofin’ Around, and in third was the 21-foot Hustler, Legendary Marine, with Greg Blutle driving and Jeff Muehlhausen throttling.

Normally Jaronczyk drives with a different throttleman, but he took the sticks while Gold drove and the two ran a strong race without breaking out of the 60-mph bracket for the class. “I looked back and was surprised by how much ground we covered,” he said.

Nauti Boyz delivered a winning performance in the Bracket 700 contest.

After impressing his competition with his new boat, Dawson said, “I thought we had one more lap. We were ahead a couple of times and I was going to get them on the last lap and I thought, ‘Oh crap.’”

Jaronczyk said that when he arrived in Englewood Beach, he had flashbacks to Super Storm Sandy that devastated Long Island and the Jersey Shore decades ago.

“I said this looks exactly the same as when we went through with Sandy,” he said. “I felt like we were disrespecting the locals.”

To the contrary, the OPA teams were respecting the people of Englewood Beach.

Though they exceeded their top-speed limit and broke out of the Bracket 500-class, the Bulletproof/Goodcars.com team captured the spirit of the Englewood Beach event.

Editor’s note: Today’s races at the OPA Englewood Beach Waterfest World Championships will be livestreamed on the OPA Racing Facebook page. Contributing editor Eric Colby and chief photographer Pete Boden will provide continued coverage for speedonthewater.com.

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