Where The Heck Is Tawas, Anyway??????
written by Paul Rose for SeriousOffshore.com
I am pretty sure that was the first question that popped into most of the racers heads when the event was first being discussed. I know it was my first thought, and I live in Michigan. I doubt it will be a question that is ever raised again, certainly not by anyone who pays attention to offshore racing events.
It’s hard to believe from the outstanding overall success, but this was the inaugural edition of the Heritage Coast Offshore Grand Prix in Tawas Bay, Michigan. The organizers had only a few short weeks to get everything to come together and they must have really burned the midnight oil to make sure this event came off as well as they possibly could. As someone who was there, attended the all the venues including the dunk test, swim test, registration, parade, street party, crane launch, drivers meetings, etc., and then raced; what an amazing event they put on for a group with no experience previously organizing an offshore race. It was a first class event, and I think involved every business and organization in the area. The list of sponsors for the event wouldn’t even fit on one banner in the main tent, and Smitty said the list of additional insured on the paperwork was the most extensive he had ever dealt with. The main organizer commented they raised the money to hold the event in just over one day with input from dang near everyone, impressive!
The official opening of the weekend for the fans was first visiting the dry pits on Friday, then the racers party at Barnacle Bills on Friday evening, next more in dry pits and then course practice on Saturday. There was a constant parade of fans reviewing the boats in the dry pits, with volunteers and police assisting with entry and exit to the pits off the main road for the teams. I cannot say enough about the assistance the police and volunteers gave throughout the event, almost always with a smile and a “Howdy”.
As for the course and practice, what a gorgeous location and outstanding fan participation! The estimated number of people given by the State Police for attendance on the pier Saturday, 4000. There was talk by the police they would have to limit the number allowed on the pier on Sunday to no more than 10,000 at any one time. The number had to come close to that as the pier was packed and it is .83 miles long. How’s that for an issue to worry about? And what an excellent place to shoot pictures, take video, and watch the races. Chatting with some of the organizers and business owners, they said the interest was above what they had expected having such a short time to promote, and this event was a very successful jumpstart to their summer season. A couple even going as far as to say the crowds were almost equal to the weekend of July 4th, their traditional summer tourist season beginning.
I had the good fortune to be a member of Simmons Racing’s team for the event, and I signed well over 100 shirts, cards, and flyers for people attending the event. One of the most memorable aspects of the event, and you can check with any of the team members in attendance, was how friendly and honestly glad to have the racers there the fans were. Several of the team members talked about how they had never been thanked so many times for being at an event to participate.
The Class 5 and Class 6 boats race kicked off the weekend’s racing Sunday afternoon in the first event. There was a slight delay as one of the boats had a water pump go out on initial launch, but it got replaced in record time and the race was maybe 20 minutes late as a result. Class 6, normally a hard fought battle from flag to flag, would be no different on this day with 8 boats making the start. The PFE boat with Gary and Rick took the early lead, with three of the others hanging on their hip throughout the race. One slight error and the lead would be gone. But, there were no errors made big enough to relinquish the lead, so they won the hard fought contest. Akula, always in the thick of the class, ended up taking a bad hop so hard the throttleman ended up on the driver’s side of the boat and the result, between the two of them, bent the steering wheel back part way to the dash. There were a couple sore guys, and a fairly beat up arm, on that team. At the checkered flag Knot Guilty took second, with Country Service taking the final podium spot. Class 5 was uncontested due to some of the other team’s mechanical issues, so Pushin-Tin took the checkered this time and had a really good testing opportunity.
After a break, it was time for the second race. This one consisted of the Class 4 Vees and the Super Vees. Although there were not a large number of boats in the contest, the competition was stiff for many of the laps. In Super Vee, Wazzup ended up beating Strictly Business to the checkered, and in Class 4 Simmons Racing edged out Team Velocity for the win. Twin Screws was right in the thick of Class 4 until they had an engine overheat and had to pull off the course to deal with the problem.
For the final race of the day, the big cats would share the course with the Super Vee Lites. The winning team of the Extreme class, Cat Can Do, put on quite a show for the fans running fairly close to the shore and pier at speeds over 150mph. In the Cat Lite Class the battle was very tight. Team Amsoil, after a month replacing much of the deck portion of the boat due to their major stuff in Ocean City, took the early lead from their pole position. For those of you not familiar with that Ocean City stuff, Bob Teague estimates the nose of the boat was approximately 75 feet deep underwater at the apex of it. Skater had to replace the entire front deck of the boat, but it certainly must make Bob and Paul feel good that the canopy did exactly as it was designed to do during that underwater jaunt.
It was a fierce battle for the flag, with Amsoil holding off PhoenixParts.com during the first three-quarters of the race, but PhoenixParts were staying close behind. They were close enough behind , that when Amsoil had an over-rev condition put the boat in “guardian” mode on the starboard engine (due to a hard slide in a turn with only a couple laps left), Phoenix was able to make the pass and hold off Amsoil for the remainder of the race. Infinity was unable to make the event, as the team flying in from Norway ended up being turned back from landing at JFK due to the severe storms there.
In Class 1 Cleveland Construction put on one heck of a show for the fans, and some of the videos out there show a few of the highlights (Including the fans running for cover!). They also ran uncontested as Lightning Jack’s hurt a motor in practice and were unable to make the start. In Class 3 Bull on the Beach also ran uncontested, but in conjunction with Cleveland Construction put on quite a memorable dual.
SVL ended with Pirate taking the win over Octane. Watching the start of the race was interesting for the fans, and the other teams. Octane had a major problem coming on plane. During pre-race fueling, they couldn’t get the boat on plane for quite some time, so between the second and third race, they took one of the props off of Simmons Racing and put it on Octane to assist with planning off. It helped a little, but not a lot. So, after they finally got the boat on plane for the parade lap, they knew they would not be able to get it in time for a decent start after milling. So, instead of normal milling, they drove around in circles on plane during mill time, with Pirate following them up until start time. Comments after the event were interesting to say the least, like “What the heck were you guys doing out there?”
After the races were over, the boats were loaded, and the town had slowed down a bit, (as had the BS’ing), and it was time to have the awards ceremony. It was held at a great little place downtown, Mr. Jack’ss Bar & Grill (don’t ask me how to pronounce that one!), outside where the sun had come out and everyone was in a pretty good mood. At the beginning, there were trophies given to the three main organizers of the event, but the way all of the volunteers handled themselves and the positive atmosphere the town and fans created, it was too bad there wasn’t room for every one of them on the podium. These three guys deserved it, and I cannot think of a more successful first try at an event I’ve ever been to.
Great racing, great weather (the forecast was for rain and thunder storms but it held completely off during the race time, and after), and great fan venues, what more can you ask for? To do it again you say? Well, of course, so after the event was over and reviewed, an additional four year schedule was inked by both sides to continue the Heritage Coast Offshore Grand Prix on Tawas Bay. What an accomplishment for the organizers to achieve. What a venue to build on, I wonder if it can be topped?
The main host hotel on the Bay was sold-out early, and we stayed in small cottages on the Bay with a good view of the course from out front. There were many of these types of places with great viewing, and you even had a private cottage all to yourself if you didn’t want to share. I believe next year the course may be moved a little closer to shore on the south end so the spectators there have the same type of viewing opportunity as those on the north end did this year. I cannot say enough good things about the organizers, the volunteers, the viewing, the State Police assistance, the towns of Tawas and East Tawas, Tawas Bay, the Coast Guard, and most of all the fans. What a success for an inaugural event, congratulations to all involved.
Well, until next year, (unless we get a chance to visit for some other reason sooner than that)……