Fans of the Bracket 600-class Smith Brothers racing team—and New Jersey-based owners/brothers Rich and Pete Smith made plenty of them during their 20 years of offshore powerboat racing—cheered on their favorite cockpit duo for the last time at the Offshore Powerboat Association World Championships last month. Following the Englewood Beach, Fla., event, the Smith siblings quietly announced their retirement from the sport.
Rich and Pete Smith of the Smith Brothers offshore racing team have officially hung up their helmets. Photo from the 2018 Lake Race by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
Much as they loved competing, they knew it was time.
“I’m not going to say it was a hard decision,” said Rich Smith, who throttled the team’s 24-foot Joker raceboat. “It really was an easy one to make. Class 6 (Bracket 600) is intensely competitive and we feel that we aren’t willing to run the boat as hard as it takes to finish first.
“This is racing and the goal is to win—we aren’t here just to compete,” he continued. “There is too much racer in us. So we decided it was time to hang up our helmets.”
The Smith brothers dreamed of racing in their home waters off the New Jersey Shore. Eventually, they got their chance. Photos by Tim Sharkey copyright Sharkey Images.
As Garden State residents who frequented the Jersey Shore, the Smith brothers grew up with the sport in their backyard during its heydays of the 1970s and 1980s. They idolized legendary offshore racers of the era, including Rocky Aoki, Betty Cook, Jerry Jacoby and Billy Martin. They dreamed of racing someday in those Atlantic Ocean waters.
“The Benihana Grand Prix was the highlight of our summers as kids,” said Pete Smith, who drove alongside his brother. “We would work as volunteers on the race committee or watch from the shore—just to see KAAMA, Bounty Hunter and Ajac Hawk made our year.”
From their 13-foot Boston Whaler, Rich and Pete Smith watched spellbound as regional races played out on Barnegat Bay near Toms River. They got to know local heroes such as Roger Munn and Bud Crisp, who battled fiercely in their respective Jolly Roger and Rated X raceboats.
A 24-foot Joker, the Smith Brothers raceboat was a fixture of Offshore Powerboat Association Bracket 600-class competition. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“I got my first ride in a raceboat from Bud Crisp in his 35-foot Cigarette,” Rich Smith recalled. “I used to wax it for him so I could get a ride.”
In 1998, the Smith brothers kicked off their racing career in a 25-foot Active Thunder V-bottom in the now-defunct U.S. Offshore version of the Factory 1 class. By 2007, they had moved into the Offshore Powerboat Association’s Bracket 600 class in a 26-foot for Corsa, which they replaced with their 24-foot Joker.
During the years, Rich Smith said, he and his brother have deeply appreciated OPA’s consistency and stability.
“Not much has changed since we started with OPA in 2007,” explained Rich Smith. “Teams come and go, but the president of OPA, Ed “Smitty” Smith, is still the heart of the organization. We wouldn’t be racing if it wasn’t for Smitty. He kept the sport afloat for years in the Northeast, and frankly nationwide. After our accident in 2017, his determination to find our sunken boat off New Jersey allowed us to finish our career on our terms. For that we will always be grateful.”
After the 2018 Lake Race on the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri, the Smith Brothers offshore racing team savored its Bracket 600-class victory.
Though they’ve sold their raceboat and are done with competition, Rich and Pete Smith plan to stay close to the sport. The relationships they made during 20 years of offshore racing run deep. They have no intention of disappearing.
“OPA is a family,” said Pete Smith. “The competitors, officials and fans supported us in the good times and the bad. We had a lot of up times and some down times as well—and the OPA family was there for both. We have made lifelong friendships in our 15 years with OPA. Fierce competitors on the racecourse become friends and family once we are back on the shore.”
Smith paused for a moment.
“We aren’t going away—we love the sport and the people too much,” he said. “We are just hanging up our helmets.”
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