Offshore powerboat racing to stay in Tawas four more years
by Jason Ogden
and John Morris
EAST TAWAS – Thousands of fans, curiosity seekers and spectators
lined the shores of Tawas Bay from East Tawas to Tawas City Sunday for the inaugural Heritage Coast Offshore Grand Prix.
The event was put on by the Offshore Powerboat Association (OPA) and sponsored by the Heritage
Coast Sailing and Rowing Company.
And the best news is Heritage Coast Sailing and Rowing Co. President David Wentworth announced
Monday morning that a letter of intent has been signed with OPA to keep the event on Tawas Bay for the next four years.
For Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce Director Mark Hitchcock,
the first year event was a success. Hitchcock said what he was most impressed about was members of the area business community working to donate sponsorship funding and get the event organized in such a short amount of time.
“They took an event that needed
organized in six months and squeezed it down to six weeks,” he said. “We all pulled together and it’s really exciting to see the entire community pull together.”
The event was a weekend packed full of events that filled the streets of East Tawas with those curious about the races, the racers and their boats.
Sunday’s event featured nine classes of powerboat racing during
three races Sunday on a 5.5-mile track around Tawas Bay.
Winning this year’s events were in the Extreme class, Cat Can Do (No. 19), first; in the Cat Lite class, PhoenixParts.com (No. 388), first, AMSOIL (No. 77), second,
and Infinity (No. 8), third; in Class 1, Cleveland Construction (No. 129), first, and Lightning Jack’s, (No. 105), second; in Super Vee, Wazzup (No. V1), first, and Strictly Business (No. V6), second; in Class 3, Bull on the Beach (No. 360), first; in Class 4, Simmons Racing (No. 401), first, Velocity Racing (No. 467), second, and Twin Screws (No. 419), third; in Super Vee Lite, Pirate Racing (No. 21), first, and Octane (No. 411), second; in Class 5 Pushin-Tin (No. 555), first; and in Class 6, PFE (No. 619), first, Knot Guilty (No. 644), second, Country Service (No. 623), third, Hurricane Force (No. 667), fourth, Akula (No. 607) and BatBoat.com (No. 602), fifth place tie, Bad News (No. 613), sixth, Wazzup II (No. 633), seventh, and Maxed Out Motorsports (No. 626), eighth.
One of the major aspects of the event was shutting down Tawas Bay so the high-horsepower crafts could conduct their races on Sunday
and their test runs on Saturday.
According to Iosco County Sheriff Allan MacGregor the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies assisted in closing off the bay from the Tawas Point Lighthouse to the mouth of the Tawas River. For a large portion of the day Sunday no boat traffic went in or out of the area, except racers and officials.
On the water, spectators were allowed to assemble at the sandbar
near Tawas Point.
West Branch Michigan Police Post Commander Melvin Matthews
said extra troopers were brought in from other posts and as many as 15 additional officers from his department were on hand for crowd control.
MacGregor said despite the vast amount of people in the community
for the event, there were relatively few skirmishes requiring
people to be arrested or detained
“They have been well-behaved over this weekend,” he said.
Many who came to the races were serious fans of horsepower and motor sports in general, including
East Tawas resident Mike Meng.
Meng said part of the reason that he was going to the races, other than the fact that he lives so close, was that he has followed races for years and would travel to areas around the state to see them, including the races in Bay City.
“I really think they are cool, and I love high-performance engines,”
Many fans could get up-close and personal with the machines. A dry dock area was set up at “The Yards” next to Walmart in Tawas City for fans to mingle with the boat drivers and actually see the boats a mere foot or two away.
Racers could be seen around town too, like Howard and Marie Richardson of Franklinville, N.J.
The pair were at the East Tawas Fire Hall using a water hose provided
for racers to clean their equipment.
As Howard Richardson scrubbed his R and S Racing boat Twin Screws, Marie Richardson spoke of the life of a boat racing driver.
She said they’re on the road a lot, traveling around the country running in many races. They have a specially equipped hauling vehicle
that has a built in camper so they don’t have to stay at motels.
The pair said they were excited
at the prospects of racing on Tawas Bay adding that they loved the area.
Richardson said that his boat, a Class 4 racer, is better suited to race in rough weather conditions
and does well because it’s so large.
Keith Holmes of Spring Lake, driver and team manager of the 40-foot Extreme class boat Cat Can Do, has been in the offshore powerboat racing sport for 20 years. It’s his 14th year driving Cat Can Do, which has a 1998 hull and is powered by twin 572 cubic inch, 1,200 horsepower racing
On a typical offshore course, Holmes said the boat can run at top speeds of between 160 to 167 miles per hour and on a straight line, its top speed is 180 mph. The boats takes a two-person crew to operate it while racing – a driver
and another crewman on the throttle.
For Holmes, racing is a full-time job as he heads CK Motorsports
Another location to see the racers
up close was at the East Tawas Michigan Department of Natural Resources boat launch. According to race officials, a 115-foot, 90-ton crane had to be brought in to handle
loading many of the massive powerboats into the water.
Race fans Tina Steward and Tim Steward rode a motorcycle from Sterling to scope out the race and see what all the action was about, Sunday.
According to Tim Steward, he prefers watching boat racing over many other motor sports. He said the reason is that the course – often
the open ocean – continually changes so that racers never know what condition they have to drive in from lap to lap.
“A racer at the front of the race is going to have a lot different water
conditions than a racer at the back of the race,” he said.
At the East Tawas State Dock Ernie Pacsai and his family watched the races Saturday and Sunday.
Pacsai, who is a Farmington
Hills resident with property in the area, has been coming to East Tawas for years. Pacsai said he hoped that the races would be something that could draw more tourism and real estate sales to the county.
He gestured toward a nearly filled marina and boats docked off shore.
“This harbor has been dead for nearly 15 years,” he said, adding that the way the bay looked Saturday
made him remember the old days of the Sunrise Side, where an empty boat slip was hard to come by.
Pacsai said he hoped that the influx of people into the area would show many who were here for the first time what it really has to offer.
Ernie’s son, Ernie Pacsai Jr., said he was heartened by the backstory of how the races came to East Tawas in the first place.
Businessman Brian Bishop, owner of the Pronto Pup food stand at the East Tawas Harbor Park, has connections in the powerboat
Bishop said he thought the bay would make a good race venue and got the ball rolling on races. Much of it was to boost sales and tourism to the area. Pacsai said he really liked that angle.
“I love the underdog story, it shows that one person in a small community can really make a difference,”
he said. “And it’s a really creative way to get stuff going in the community.”
Ron Polli, OPA vice president, said the group had no idea where Tawas Bay was and many members
had to do a Google search to find it.
“We had no idea where we were going and what to expect,” he said. “But the teams that arrived
were blown away by the people and their hospitality. And you have that beautiful blue bay.”
Polli said the association also enjoys coming to the small venues such as Tawas.
“When we go to a place like Miami, we get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “But when we come to small venues like Tawas, this is the biggest thing there.”
Polli said the best part of the event that no boats flipped over and no one got hurt.
“We’re coming back,” Ed “Smitty” Smith, OPA president and driver of Wazzup, said at Sunday’s
after race awards party held at Mr. Jack’ss in East Tawas.
Asked Sunday if a multi-year agreement could be reached to keep the race on Tawas Bay, Smith answered, “we’ll get it done.”
Then both sides inked the new four-year agreement on Monday morning.
More information about the races can be found by visiting www.oparacing.org.