Surely every Shootout fan has fantasized about racing a go-fast boat: roaring 200+ mph down the course in a thundering, twin-engine 50 ft. catamaran while cheering fans stretch for miles. But what does it really take to race?
Powerboat racing is more than just showing up and dropping a boat in the water. Besides high-powered engines, major racing skills and nerves of steel, there are countless details to consider before climbing into a cockpit on race day.
Myrick Coil and Johnny Tomlinson have a record that proves they know what it takes. Coil drove and Tomlinson throttled the Performance Boat Center/Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast catamaran to incredible success last year. They won 1st place in the 2016 Super Boat International Offshore World Championships in the Superboat Class, and they won the 2016 National and Florida Circuit Championships, giving them a Triple Crown Trophy. But that wasn’t enough: the team also received the Golden Eagle Award, for being voted by peers as exhibiting exemplary professionalism in the sport, for being well-liked, and for working extremely hard to win.
For race fans or amateur boat racers thinking about taking it to the next level, Coil offers his expert advice…
First, you need to choose where you will race! The group you choose to race with each offers its own unique experience.
Among your options: Super Boat International, the Offshore Powerboat Association, the American Power Boat Association or participating in individual, unsanctioned event like shootouts. Each takes different knowledge, equipment and funding. SBI has more intense competition. OPA offers more open classes to allow a variety of boats, so it may be a better place to start. APBA is even more grassroots, for people who want to get their kids into boat racing and it has smaller and more diverse classes, like the Shootouts. And for events like the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, there’s no need to join any association: it’s a good chance to get a feel for your boat and to mingle with the pros.
What kind of boat will you race, and what racing class does that put you in?
There are open and closed cockpits, outboards and inboards, stock, turbines, v-bottoms and catamarans, from 400 to 7,200+ horsepower. You can buy a boat used or new, with costs ranging from $20,000 to $2 million. If you’re serious about racing, you’ll end up needing extra motors, spare drives, transom assemblies and tools. The harsh reality is: equipment breaks. That includes propellers, which teams in the Unlimited class will tell you can cost up to $30,000 apiece!
KNOW THE RULES
Each association or event has its own rules, and you can download a rulebook from their websites. Just as a point of reference: the 2017 Super Boat International rulebook is 78 pages long and includes sections on marketing requirements, uniforms, and equipment. The LOTO Shootout rulebook, on the other hand, fits on a single sheet of paper, with room to spare.
SAFETY IS CENTRAL
Know the required safety training, equipment and procedures you will need. Some of these are spelled out in organizational rulebooks; others are considered common-sense by many racers who know the risks. Among the myriad safety precautions racers might take: emergency kill switches, self-rescue dunker training, self-contained air systems, escape exit strategy plans for canopies and FAA physicals. You can surpass the requirements, depending on how safe you want to be, but you owe it to yourself (and your family) to know the latest and greatest safety technology the marine industry has to offer.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Besides the cost of the boat, you will need to pay for engines, spare parts, a trailer, a tow rig, a crew, travel costs, entry fees and insurance.
Racers have to consider: do I need two or four guys, one or two trucks? And then there are the race fees, which can cost $2,500 to $7,000 in SBI, depending on the race and the class.
Can you afford to take time off for racing, and how much time can you spend away from your family? On average, you will be gone four days per race, plus sponsor events.
Fuel costs can pile up, too. A powerboat isn’t a Prius — racers will typically spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fuel at a single race.
Depending on the size of your boat, you will need a truck, a driver, a hotel room or house and a place to store the boat and spare parts. Some teams bring a travel trailer to stay in, and they eat out of a refrigerator and coolers during the event to save time—or money—on meals.
Some racers have a paid crew, because they need a greater level of attention given to detail and mechanical skills. High caliber boats need regular maintenance to stay alive at extreme speeds. Other racers have friends as their crew—many racers actually began as a volunteer crew member to gain experience. Go with experience or network with someone who knows good people, such as the marina where your boat is rigged and maintained.
Myrick says one of the most satisfying compliments Performance Boat Center’s service department could ever receive is having a boat they rigged for one of their customers/competitors beat them in a race. When you use their services, you purchase their knowledge base.
As your race boat of choice gets larger and faster, you’ll have to ask: Do I want to drive, or throttle? There are drivers and throttlemen available for hire as well.
PREPARING FOR THE RACE
Your boat needs to be rigged for the specific class and race you choose. You will also need to test the boat before the races and on race day.
Once at the races, you will register and attend racers’ meetings. Your boat will go through safety and technical inspections and your crew will double-check the weight when the boat goes in on the crane, to calculate the fuel-burn. This is to be sure the boat will weigh in after the race above the minimum race-weight, so you won’t be disqualified or receive a penalty.
Successful—and safe—racing takes skill, and if you need to improve yours, there are professional race teams that you can hire to train you to drive and/or throttle your boat. After that, experience is the best teacher.
Boat racing is unique. In a sport like motocross, the jumps are in the same place. But on the water, the jumps vary every second, so you are constantly challenged, changing throttle, position and trim with the angle of the boat attacking every wave. The presence of other boats on the course and the wave action can change your plans in a millisecond.
When Myrick races, his focus is always on the next buoy—not the next two laps or the next three turns. And he never looks back.
“All you think about is going as fast as you can, as safe as you can,” Myrick said.
It is also up to you to make the course as short as you possibly can (within the rules). Unlike some race car tracks that are a set width, boat racing courses have much wider boundaries, or none at all! So if you get off course or can’t find a buoy, you can end up making the course a lot longer than it really is.
After the race, your boat will go through technical inspections again, to make sure you didn’t cheat. You then prepare the boat to go home or to the next race. Pop a bottle of champagne at the awards ceremony and collect your trophy… or cheer for the winner and dream of how to improve for the next race. How many races are left for the year may well depend on what kind of sponsor package you’ve been able to land.
All of that is really just the tip of the iceberg. But for those who love boating and crave speed and competition, powerboat racing is worth the cost! Events like the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout were built for just those kinds of people: giving professional and amateur boaters alike a chance to go fast, push their boat to the limit, and enjoy the sight of thousands of fans cheering along the race course.