Coming out of the pandemic-decimated 2020 offshore powerboat racing season, no one knew how the 2021 season would play out. And as the key organizer of Thunder On Cocoa Beach, the first race of the 2021 American Power Boat Association Offshore National Championships Series, Florida’s Kerry Bartlett would be the first to learn if the sport could come back from a season of almost total dormancy. There were no guarantees.
The Class 1 Huski team will field at least one boat in Cocoa Beach, Fla., next month. Photo from the 2021 APBA/UIM World Championships by Cole McGowan copyright Powerboat P1.
As it turned out, he had nothing to worry about. Boasting typically nasty Cocoa Beach water conditions, the 2021 event attracted 62 teams, topping its prior 59-boat record set in 2019, and Bartlett could exhale.
The lost season certainly didn’t help the sport. But it hadn’t killed it.
Once again opening the APBA series, the Cocoa Beach event is scheduled for May 19-22 and Bartlett is expecting another record-setting turnout.
“Everything looks perfect and is going really well here,” he said. “We are expecting a big fan showing and more race teams than we’ve ever had.”
Bartlett has cause for optimism. For openers, Ryan Beckley, the Super Stock-class representative, is expecting 11 to 13 teams to take the green flag in Cocoa Beach.
Though the Super Cat class had below-average boat counts during the 2021 season, the fleet was up to five boat for the American Power Boat Association Union Internationale Motonautique Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla. The year ended on a positive note and the momentum continued into the off season.
Class representative Tyler Miller, the owner and throttleman of the M CON team, said that in addition to his own outfit the WHM Motorsports, SV Racing, Chariots of Fire, Dependable, Graydel and Pro Floors Racing have committed to the season-opener.
With an estimated 11 to 13 Super Stock cats on the course, Thunder on Cocoa Beach is guaranteed to be a high-flying affair. Photos from Thunder On Cocoa Beach 2021 by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
That’s seven Super Cat teams, a healthy turnout by any measure. Last year, the Cocoa Beach contest saw just three official Super Cat teams—Canada Homes, M CON and WHM— as SV Racing, which ended its race with a spectacular roll, had been moved out of the class for its Mercury Racing 860 engines.
“And I haven’t confirmed Justice League, H.P. Mafia or the old Broadco (now Dramatized Offshore Racing), for Cocoa Beach” said Miller.
The Cocoa Beach venue attracts Bracket class teams from across the Sunshine State and beyond.
No spec-class offshore racing category had a worse turnout in 2021 than Class 1. Veteran offshore racer Steve Curtis and Azam Rangoonwala, the chief executive officer of Powerboat P1, were bullish on reviving the Class 1 in 2019 with an 1,100-hp Mercury Racing engine package. Working together, they were able to attract the fan-favorite Miss GEICO, Australia-based 222 Offshore and the Victory team from Dubai to compete.
But none ran in 2020, of course, and much of the 2021 season action prior to the APBA/UIM Offshore World Championship was limited to Miss GEICO—now out of the sport—running solo laps.
Now seven Class 1 teams, one with two boats, have committed to run this season.
“I would like to believe we will have seven Class 1 boats at every race,” said Curtis. “Of course some boats will be better in certain conditions and certain types of courses, so I think we will learn a lot at the first race.”
The 2021 APBA/UIM Mod V World Champion Boatfloater.com team is gearing up for next month’s season-opener.
Stephen Kildahl, the younger member of the father-and-son Boatfloater.com duo that earned the APBA/UIM Mod V World Championship last year, said four Mod V teams have confirmed they’ll compete in Cocoa Beach next month, with “the possibility of six or seven teams” showing up. On the Stock V side of the equation, there could be as many 10 teams in the mix according to Brit Lilly of the 2021 APBA/UIM Stock V World Champion LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness/Rev-X Oil team.
“We’re pumped for Cocoa Beach—we love rough water—so we can’t wait,” said Lilly. “And the Twisted Tea boat is going to be there, too.”
A pair of recent world champions, LSB’s Brit Lilly and Kevin Smith are eager to return to rowdy Atlantic Ocean conditions off Cocoa Beach.
Far harder to predict at any given event are turnouts in the Bracket classes, where travel budgets tend to be tighter and racing near home is often more feasible. But as the APBA series-opener, Cocoa Beach tends to draw a healthy mix of Florida-based Bracket teams, as well teams able to travel from the Northeast and Midwest.
Off the racecourse, the venue will be loaded with nighttime diversions, starting with the popular Thursday night welcome party at Juice ‘N Java, which will have a live band. The Thunder On Cocoa Beach Street Party and Caravan will return the following. Though not planned or produced by the race organizers, an outdoor concert is set for Saturday night.
“Sunday is the big race day,” said Bartlett. “We will have a VIP chalet at Coconuts and Lori Wilson Park—passes are still for sale but going quickly.”
Cocoa Beach tends to be offshore powerboat racing’s roughest regular-season venue.
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