How APBA Outboard Drag Racing Started in Region One
by Brad Snow - Region 1 APBA Drag Vice Chairman
All of us either know people who are hot boat enthusiasts or come from a "king of the lake" background ourselves. As an outboard mechanic who became an APBA Stock, Mod., and Pro. Outboard racer in the 1970s, watching water pass under the bow of my hydroplane really fast was the movie I preferred watching. After realizing I no longer wanted to dive into first turns with eleven other boats, I retired from racing but the need for speed was still there. At the time, the V bottom pleasure boats I saw running in the newly formed OPC classes didn't look like my kind of ride. I was left without a theater for my favorite movie.
Shortly thereafter, V-6 outboards came on the scene. Hundreds of Hydrostreams originally designed for in-line motors were re-fitted with new, much more powerful V-6s. Many new categories of racing sharing similar engines while a growing bass boat industry helped amortize costs for a bunch of performance developments and accessories. Sixty mph was pretty fast for a "pleasure-boat " in 1977. Twenty years later in 1997, there were numerous "family" outboard boats running around rivers and lakes, some of which were even bow-riders, that are also capable of running well over 80 mph.
In 1995, I found exactly what I had been dreaming of and acquired one of the current generation of "family tunnel boats". It was an STV-Euro Ski which is a Mod-VP race hull configured with a spacious interior that seats four. In my travels with it, I began to encounter other fast outboard pleasure boats. The drivers of these boats were usually very tuned into what their boats can do and how to make them do it. Most felt really comfortable driving at speeds above 80 mph for really long distances and under widely varying conditions. They were all also quite comfortable doing this without helmets or sometimes even life jackets. As a former APBA racer who's been "over" a few times, I simply couldn't imagine running these speeds without safety gear. However, not having been exposed to the safety consciousness we racers take for granted, they couldn't be expected to know what safety gear to wear and how important it is.
As soon as I bought my boat I knew outboard drag racing would be ideal for me. However it only existed in other distant parts of the country and I didn't think it would ever be run in Region One. Others throughout New England felt similarly but Bob Bourget of Worcester, MA. had the vision to actually make it happen. For approximately ten years from 1983 through 1993, Bob, along with Mark Israelian and Dean Hazard, also from the Worcester area, spent their entire year testing and preparing for only one race. It was an informal gathering in Bangor Maine that included drag racing as well as circle racing and marathon racing. In 1993 the annual event stopped and they were left without any place to meet. After several years of no racing, they went looking for other opportunities and found stock, mod., and pro. racing right in their own state.
Bob approached Charlie Gonyea of The South Shore Outboard Association, a club already putting on APBA sanctioned Stock, Mod. and Pro category races, and asked him to add an "exhibition" outboard drag race before the Stock, Mod., and Pro. racing program started and then again during their patrol boat changes. After discussing potential compatibility problems, it was decided that the two racing formats would work well together and SSOA's first Taunton race was selected as a trial run. Bob went to Taunton with a couple of drag boats early in the season and ran a small demonstration to show the club officials what we intended to do.
To stimulate interest in drag boat participants, we decided to cater the drag events to grass-roots, family style pleasure boats, as opposed to single purpose race boats. This was done to attract as many participants as possible - most of whom were new to APBA racing. Bob came up with four class divisions initially that really made sense to the rest of us based on the type of boats we had in our area:
Pure Stock - no powerhead modifications at all. Nose cones, blow-out rings, and solid mounts are acceptable. 200 H.P. maximum, 15' boat minimum, full interiors, pump fuel only.
Super Stock - no internal power-head modifications. Heads, reeds, exhaust relief, or any external bolt-on allowed (Factory parts only). 225 H.P. max, 16' minimum, full interiors, pump fuel only.
Pro-Stock: Modified motors; 2.4 & 2.5 Hi-Performance (Stock) motors. All Mod- VP type hulls, full interior or competition hulls. No 2.5 drag motors, nitrous, turbos, or after-market induction systems. 17' minimum.
Pro-Comp: 2.4 & 2.5 Performance Products modified motors. 18' minimum.
The reason we didn't run strict APBA classes initially was to keep participant interest high and racing competitive for the variety of boats that showed up. Class divisions were determined by the race director with the participation and consensus of the drivers.
Now that drag boats were on the schedule, it became important to organize the potential participants so they would know about the races and what was expected of them. It also was important for the race committee to know how many drag boats were going to show up since our launching and pit needs are slightly different from the other classes already on the schedule. We unofficially appointed one person from each state who became responsible for recruiting the participants within his state, and disseminating information to them as it became available. This has worked well.
Our first race at Taunton was very successful. We drew about a dozen boats so the learning curve was fairly short and the day went as planned. The racing was much closer than expected, regardless of engine size or hull design. The spectators really enjoyed the diversity of the program while seeing boats they relate to competing. A few even went out and bought rigs to race with us later in the season. All participants became SSOA and APBA members and all APBA safety rules were followed. The "exhibition" was so successful that outboard drag racing was put on other race schedules, and has been included in SSOA events ever since. After the first race, based on the types of boats there, we ended up combining the four classes down to two: Pro Stock and Pro Comp., which worked fine for us for the rest of the season. All of the rest of the races were run in conjunction with outboard circle racing and our numbers grew at each event. The atmosphere was very friendly and open, and everyone there had fun helping each-other. We even formed our own club - "The New England Outboard Drag Association" to more efficiently develop drag racing in our area. This club operates within SSOA's legal infrastructure but we hold our own meetings which allows us to focus specifically on drag racing issues.
For the 1998 season we continued to emphasize an informal approach for all participants by running two "grass roots" classes and one APBA class. We were hoping to attract even more types of pleasure boats as participants that may not ordinarily be viewed as race boats, so our sport is even more accessible to more folks on the beach. We feel a really close race to the finish line is always exciting, no matter how fast the participants are going. Some of our members traveled to other regions in the country who have been running outboard drag racing much longer. They felt our Region 1 races are as well organized and run as smoothly as the others, which proves how easy it is to start drag racing in a new area.
This year, there is a momentum to standardize the rules and procedures between all the various racing organizations throughout the country so our sport can grow on a national level. As other clubs and racing associations have done, this year NEODA voted to follow APBA rules from now on. This was done after finding many more of our racers are competing on a national level than originally anticipated.
Drag racing in Region One seems to be a winner for all concerned. The club and APBA secured a bunch of new enthusiastic dues paying members, all at once. The increased number of entry fees at the races helped cover event costs. The spectators and sponsors enjoyed a more diverse program that was more action packed. The length of the racing day increased minimally since our heats don't take very long to run off and are run during breaks that already existed. And best of all, all the outboard drag participants now have helmets and real life jackets and are following APBA safety rules. Just as drag strips put driving cars fast in a safe arena, we now have safe places to drive our fast boats while meeting other people with the same obsession. For further information, please feel free to contact Brad Snow at (860) 828-8825 during the day or (860) 349-8699 evenings.
Notes on starting drag racing in your area:
In our case each state had its own group of prospective racers. We informally appointed one person as the head of each group. These group leaders were the conduit for disseminating information and coordinating the rest of the racers in their groups.
The group leaders can approach existing APBA affiliated clubs in their areas already putting on races, and ask to be included in the schedule. Almost regardless of what categories they're currently running, they should have an infrastructure in place that would accommodate drag racers - patrol boats and experienced race officials.
The new drivers and rigs need to be outfitted with all necessary APBA approved safety gear. Group leaders should coordinate life jacket purchases since many new members will need to purchase them. We ordered our's all at the same time from the same source and received a substantial discount.
The group leaders made sure everyone showed up on race day. We did a tech and safety inspection on all boats as they arrived before they were put into the water. We called a driver's meeting that included only drag boats as early as possible. Roll call was quick since there were only 12 drag boats at the meeting. We announced when in the overall schedule drag boats were to be run so they were on the water as soon as the patrol boats come in to change drivers. Then we sent out the drag boats immediately, literally as the other driver's meeting was going on and the judge's stand was being set up, etc.
A race director is mandatory. His or her qualifications are determined by overall experience and knowledge of boats and motors and dedication to the sport. He or she doesn't necessarily need to be a race participant.
A pit boss is mandatory to make sure everyone is in the water and ready to go when they need to be while not leaving stuff in the way. They should have a hand-held pa system to be heard and should have all the boats in the water ready to go to the starting line as soon as the ambulance arrives.
It is suggested that the outboard club provide a person or people to work with the drag people - especially in the area of flags. The starter flagging is critical and requires a high degree of consistency and is different from other methods of racing. He or she needs an assistant in the starting boat to hold up the number cards to cue up participants quickly.
The finish line judges determine the winner and indicate to a second flag person on shore which lane won. The finish line judges can be any race officials but the rules say there must be two. The flag person on shore at the finish line holds up a red flag if the right lane won and a green flag for the left lane.
The inspector is responsible for a pre-tech and safety inspection before the race and post race inspections. All APBA safety rules must be followed for insurance reasons, aside from the fact that they are there for our own benefit.
Course configuration & procedure:
While our courses ended up being pretty close to a 1/4 mile long, course lengths can be determined by what fits the site safely. We have four buoys to define the course. The buoys are: a starting gate buoy, a starting line buoy, a mid-course marker, and a finish line buoy. These really need to be in a straight line with each-other and distinguishable from the rest of the circle race buoys on the course. The starter boat is anchored just inside the starting line buoy. Actually the starting line buoy is optional but it is helpful to have one so the starting boat can find its position quickly.
We made flash cards with numbers on them (1 through however many boats are expected.) that were used to call pairs of contestants to the starting line. Each boat is assigned one of these numbers at the driver's meeting and the driver writes the number on a piece of tape to be placed on his dash so he or she doesn't forget his or her number.
Anchor the starting boat between the two lanes in the starting gate just in front of the starting line buoy. The assistant holds up the cards with the first two numbers to have the first two participants approach the starting gate. Once in the gate, the starter signals the boats to line up evenly and idling in gear. Once he or she feels they are lined up evenly, they raise or drop the white flag and the race begins. If the racers do not line up evenly, the starter person waves them off to come around again. If they fail to line up properly again, the race is forfeited and the next contestants are lined up.
We run all the boats down the course and have them wait past the finish line until everyone has run. At the end of the race, they drive straight out the end of the course and veer off both to one side or one each side depending on the configuration of the site, and wait to be called back to the starting line. A green flag is flown if the inside lane is the winner, and a red flag is flown if the outside lane wins. When the yellow flag is flown, everyone returns to the starting line by running single file down the middle of the course so the wakes disburse quickly. No racing! After all runs are over, a black flag sends everyone back to the pits.