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OPA Worlds Day 1: No Surprises

In the first day of action at the Offshore Powerboat Association’s world championships in Englewood Beach, Fla., no one was surprised that the 50-foot Mystic, dfYoung, with Rich Wyatt throttling and Hugh Fuller driving won the Unlimited class in dominant fashion. The same went for Aaron Hope and Anthony Smith in the 38-foot Skater, AMH Construction, in the Supercat category.

Nor was it a surprise that one of the most hotly contested races came in the class that has provided the best show all season regardless of the sanctioning body, Super Stock. Even though there were only five boats competing, the 30- to 32-foot catamarans powered by twin Mercury Racing 300 XS outboards put on a helluva show with veteran teams battling deck to deck with new in-cockpit tandems.

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In Saris Racing, the father and son duo of Jason and Johnny Saris broke Simmons Marine’s season-long winning streak. Photos courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Driving and throttling his 32-foot Doug Wright, Shadow Pirate, Nick Scafidi had his son, Austin, as his co-pilot and the duo jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. “I propped the boat for calm flat water and it got calmer as the race went on,” Scafidi said. “I didn’t have a start like that since the last time I throttled.”

But the action behind them was hot and heavy between the team of throttleman Jay Muller and new boat owner Al Penta in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Phase 05. Offshore racing fans would recognize the patriotically painted boat as the former Killer Bee. Muller and Penta were battling for most of the race with the veteran pair of driver Jimmie Harrison and throttleman/boatowner Gary Ballough in the 32-foot Victory, FJ Propeller. Not far behind them was the 30-foot Wicked Powerboats catamaran running under the same name and Ryan Beckley’s 30-foot Skater, Cape Haze Marina, trailed in fifth.

About midway through the 12-lap race on the Gulf of Mexico that is part of the annual Englewood Beach Waterfest, Ballough and Harrison made an aggressive move to get under Phase 05 in the dogleg section of the 4.1-mile-long course. It proved to be costly as FJ Propeller rolled in the turn. Both team members made it out of the cockpit OK, but their day was done.

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Nick and Austin Scafidi delivered a commanding Super Stock-class performance in Shadow Pirate. 

After a delay of about 40 minutes, officials re-started the race, which was the fourth of the day and Scafidi picked up where he left off, jumping to the lead. But a new concern reared its ugly head—fuel. “We were all worried about fuel at the end,” Scafidi said. “I’m afraid to shut off my motors so I just kept everything running at dead idle.”

Even before the race, Scafidi kept fuel in mind, running only around 3,500 rpm on the parade lap and taking it easy where he could during the race. Phase 05 ran out of fuel after the restart, so Scafidi reduced his top speed by about 15 mph after that. When Wicked got close, Shadow Pirate would speed up, but beyond keeping his lead, Scafidi took a conservative approach to capturing the checkered flag. It’s a good thing, he did, too. When the boat was at the crane being hauled out, he put a stick in the fuel tank of his boat and it came out bone dry.

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FJ Propeller looked strong but rolled midway through the Super Stock-class contest.

It could be argued that the best race of the day was the first one in which eight single-outboard-powered 21- and 22-foot V-bottoms battled in Class 7. Even though the boats aren’t supposed to run more than 60 mph, the fact that the leaders were never more than a few boat lengths apart for the entire six-lap race set a bar for competitive action that the other classes couldn’t match.

At the start, Nick Imprescia and Ian Morgan jumped out to the lead in their 21-foot Superboat, NJI Motorsport. But the father-and-son team of Joe Reilly and his son Joe in the 22’ Progression, Shadow Pirate (can someone please tell me what a shadow pirate is?), dogged Imprescia, who drives and throttles, at every turn. Evil Ways ran a close third, waiting for its opportunity to pounce.

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The Class 7 battle was among the best of the day.

Imprescia had a coil go bad between the second and third lap, which made it tough for him to reach and maintain 60 mph. The Reillys seized on this and dove between Imprescia and the buoy coming out of the north series of turns leading to the start-finish line.

“We made contact multiple times and he was driving into my lane a few times,” said Imprescia. After Shadow Pirate got past NJI MotorsportsEvil Ways tried to do the same, but Imprescia said, “I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

Shadow Pirate grabbed the checkered flag with NJI Motorsports taking second and Evil Ways taking third. While driving an hour to pick up a new coil pack for his motor, Imprescia said, “We’ve still got a shot at this.”

In the second race of the day, the 14 boats in Class 6 and the seven entries in Class 4 took to the water with those in the latter starting first. The father-son throttling and driving team of Jason and Johnny Saris and their 30-foot Cobra, Saris Racing, took advantage of having the inside lane and jumped out to a lead they would not release, running to the victory in Class 4.

“If we get half the luck we had today tomorrow, I’ll be happy,” said Johnny Saris. “We had the pole today and our boat turns very well.”

After running in second for much of the day in their 32-foot Speedster, throttleman Dan MacNamara and driver Kyle Dieteven ran out of gas.

“We couldn’t turn as hard as (Saris), it was our first time in the boat,” MacNamara said. “Today was for figuring out what the boat was going to do. We were right where we wanted to be.” The conditions were such that MacNamara had to run the drives trimmed in and the engines burned more fuel than he expected.

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The LSB/Hurricane of Awesomess cockpit duo of Brit Lilly and Kevin Smith took first place in the always competitive Pro Stock V category. 

If there was a surprise in Class 4, it was that the 34-foot Phantom, Simmons Marine, did not take the checkered flag for the first time this year. The team wound up second and is in good shape for the championship tomorrow, since all the teams were running for half points today and full points tomorrow.

In the Class 6 race, NuWave Marine/RumRunner led for most of the laps, but then attrition kicked in and Deception took over followed by Liquid Addiction and Smith Brothers.

The third race of the day has the fewest boats with Tugit/LSB fighting an uphill battle against Knucklehead Instigator in a battle of canopied Fountain raceboats. Kevin Smith and Brit Lilly continued to make progress in their bigger, older Fountain while Anthony and Ed Smith (not related) had an aerodynamic and dialed-in advantage in their 39-foot low-profile Fountain.

Knucklehead/Instigator took the win, but Lily was pleased with what he saw and felt from his boat. “If I could do it over I would put a little weight in the bow,” he said.

Also on the water in the day’s third race were the Class 3 boats and the Fountain, #Living Right/Team Woody, led from the start over the 30-foot Phantom powered by a Mercury Racing 565, Challenger, which flew Japanese colors.

Also on the water during the third race of the day were the Class 5 boats and from the start, the 30-foot Superboat, Shoreline Plumbing, jumped out to what looked like a commanding lead over Bronx PhantomSpecialized Racing and others. Over the course of the nine-lap race, Reindl Powerboats got around Shoreline to grab the win and Team Woody outpaced Specialized Racing for third.

In addition to the Super Stock class, the Super Vee Extreme and ProStock Vee classes were on the water for the day’s fourth race.

In the SVX race, even the red flag couldn’t keep Brian Forehand from driving and throttling to victory in the 29-foot Outerlimits, Marker 17 Marine. Second went to Steve Miklos’ 30-foot Extreme, Sun Print, while the father-son team of Steven and Stephen Kildahl captured third in Boatfloater.com. The Kildahls benefitted the most from the red flag that closed the course because they had been well off the pace.

In ProStock Vee class, which features 30’ canopied V-bottoms running sealed Mercury Racing HP525 EFI engines, Lily and Smith dominated in their 30’ Extreme, LSB Racing/Hurricane of Awesomeness/RevX Oil. Even when the red flag stopped the race, wiping out their advantage over the fleet, the duo claimed the advantage on the restart and never looked back, taking the checkered flag. Fast Boys finished second and Nobody’s Business grabbed third.

When asked why the team has been able to dominate a “spec” class in 2019, Lilly said, “It’s a whole lot of luck to start with and sometimes Kevin and I can work together the best in the cockpit. All year long Kevin’s never missed the start.”

Let’s see what offshore powerboat racing’s cockpit partnerships will bring to the water tomorrow.

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Editor’s note: Look for speedonthewater.com’s second OPA World Championships race report late tomorrow afternoon.

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