Most powerboat racing fans just refer to it as “the beach.” But 81 years ago there wasn’t a motorboat to be seen at Long Beach Marine Stadium, a city icon now recognized has a historical landmark in Southern California. Back then, it was the site of the 1932 Olympic Games rowing championships and the first man-made rowing stadium in the United States.
Since then, Long Beach Marine Stadium has been the home of all kinds of aquatic festivities and oddities from 200-plus-mph drag boats and world water-ski speed records to furiously paddling dragon boat racers and much-dedicated collegiate rowing teams.
Although Southern California powerboat racing suffered a crippling blow in the late 1970s when Long Beach City government decided racing was too noisy for the growing residential community around it, one event per year still survives—the annual Long Beach Sprint Nationals, sponsored by ARP and conducted by the Southern California Speedboat Club and RPM Racing Enterprises every August. And it happened last weekend.
This year, two American Power Boat Association (APBA) national championships and one North American championship title were on the line along with eight other surprisingly full classes. As expected, the battle for the North American SST-45 crown narrowed to the two pre-race favorites, RJ West and Jason Williams. When the point totals were tallied on Sunday afternoon, West was the winner in a close contest with Williams runner-up.
The big-horsepower Grand National class with supercharged engines is always a crowd pleaser, and with a national championship hanging in the balance, the competition escalated to the next level. Joey Cucci driving the Body Snatcher was flawless all weekend, executing jack-rabbit-like quickness off the beach on every LeMans start to take a commanding lead from turn one to the checkered flag. Cucci couldn’t coast to victory, however, as Heath Heibert pressed the pace from start to finish with a strong second-place performance.
The ever-exciting Comp Jet class didn’t disappoint where the unexpected is the norm. The eventual 2013 national champion was Tom Bandy, a well-known jet boat drag racer who demonstrated he also knew something about turning left on the tight Long Beach course. Bandy bounced back, however, from a rough first qualifier race on Saturday when he spun out in a turn and cost himself an almost certain heat victory to take the overall title.
The busiest and most successful driver of the weekend was Robby Devine, a former standout in the Grand National class who has now moved on as the resident shoe for the multi-boat stable of Tom Buckles. Devine nabbed overall wins in both the Pro Stock and K-Boat classes and added a very respectable third in Super Stock. The K-Boat class also had the wildest crash of the weekend when Chris Irick of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., up-ended his immaculate K-034. Fortunately, Irick exited the boat cleanly without suffering serious injuries.
Editor’s note: For complete Long Beach Sprint Nationals race results click here.