It takes a great team to win in offshore racing—or any type of boat racing.
As many of you already know, I’ve joined the
Superboat-class Cleveland Construction
Offshore Racing Team this season, and so
far so good inside the cockpit with my friend and driver, Ed Smith. I’ve known Smith for many years as we’ve competed against each other, worked on each other’s boats, traded setup advice and so on.
Of course none of that meant we’d be great
teammates inside the same boat—in this case a 38-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran powered by a pair of 850-hp engines in a very competitive class with some of the greatest boat handlers I’ve ever raced against, think John Tomlinson, Billy Mauff, Grant Bruggemann and more. We only have three races under our belt, but we’re getting to know each other better each time out.
I’ve already learned one thing about Ed though—he gets it, he can drive. Throughout my years of boat racing, which started racing back in 1973 if you can believe it, I’ve realized there are people who are naturals, others who can figure it out after time and those who will never get it. I’ve raced alongside all of them. I won’t name the latter, but I can tell you I’ve been fortunate to share a cockpit with some of the best, including the one-and-only Bob Nordskog, who was responsible for so many unbelievable racing experiences. There’s also Tomlinson, Mauff, Mike Flanigan, Greg Rivera, John Talley, Gary Ballough, Rob Storelee and my teammate of almost 10 years in the Teague Custom Marine (formerly AMSOIL) Skater—Paul Whittier.
I’ve even been privileged to race with my son, John, and I’m proud to say he’s really good. The best drivers listen, and John wants to learn so he listens.
At some point, when a throttleman and driver really get it, you barely have to talk to each other. Paul and I have been like that for many years. That’s the key. In order for a team to be really good, the two people in the boat have to be one, even more so than it used to be.
When I first started racing, the most important person was the throttleman because we were racing a lot farther with checkpoints as far as 25 or 30 miles apart. Scratch that, in the earliest days and when we were doing endurance runs, the navigator was the most important person. We didn’t have GPS back then and we weren’t allowed any outside assistance so it was just us with our roll sheets, compasses and stop watches.
Eventually offshore racing evolved into circle racing basically and the driver became equally as important. For us, the throttleman takes control on the straights and the driver is in charge in and out of the turns, meaning I need to have my trim and speed in the right place for my teammate to take the best turn possible.
Everyone I’ve ever raced with has known there is an element of danger involved in what we do but we do everything we can to minimize the risk by not trying to run beyond our equipment or the conditions. That’s not to say I haven’t crashed my fair share of boats—I have. But you also need to realize not every day is your day. I love to win; I also love to come back to the docks right side up. It’s important to me that my teammates recognize that as well.
And when I say teammates that means everyone on the crew. Much of the safety aspect has to do with the preparation, checks and preflight stuff that falls on everyone’s shoulders. With my team, everyone pitches in. If we need to get something done, everyone stays until it’s finished. There is no pecking order—to me everyone is equally important.
In fact, in my 40-plus years of racing, I’ve never been on a team where there was a person who had a title of crew chief. A welloiled team is the key to being successful. That means giving everyone a fair share of responsibility, a sense of ownership and an opportunity to voice their opinions. I don’t care what you’re racing, you can’t do it alone.
Most of the teams I’ve been a part of I’ve either been the owner, part-owner or racing with the owner. The Cleveland Construction team is an exception as Mark Small owns the team and Ed and I race the boat. So was the Lightning Strikes Donzi I raced with Flanigan and the Sun Country Formula I raced in Factory 2 class with Rivera.
Obviously for me, boat racing is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. I’ve raced longer than anyone currenty in this sport and I’ve held just about every officiating position that exists. I’ve dedicated my life to the sport and I’ve also given back as much as I can. To me it’s important to give back. It’s also important to share knowledge and pass along the stories of yesteryear.
I’m not just talking about racing—the pranks and off-the-course fun is just as memorable to me. I mean Larry Kramer, who I raced with in Harry’s Hoffbrau (Nordskog’s old 40-foot Fountain) and later in Woody (a 39-foot Extreme V-bottom sponsored by Universal Studios), was one of the most colorful guys. Talk about pranksters, he was amongst the best I’ve ever met.
Of course, I’ll always remember my teammates and the relationships developed throughout the years. At the same time, I’ll remember all of the experiences thanks to
the unique places I’ve visited. From Peru and Washington, N.C., to Seattle and St. Clair,
Mich., the amount of race sites I’ve competed at is unbelievable. I’ve definitely been to places I would have never gone otherwise.
And I have every one of my teammates to thank for that.