Offshore Powerboat Season Kicks Off In OC

OCEAN CITY — The grand spectacle of offshore powerboat racing returns to Ocean City this weekend with the arrival of the first leg of the Offshore Powerboat Association (OPA) summer-long series around the country.

The OPA series gets underway this weekend with the Ocean City Grand Prix, the first of seven events at locations all over the country. Dozens of high-powered offshore powerboats will converge on the resort area starting this afternoon for a series of events onshore and off throughout the weekend culminating with two races just off the coast of Ocean City on Sunday afternoon. Phil Houck, owner of the Bull on the Beach and lead sponsor on the event, said this week he expects a big turnout based on early registration.

“We’re expecting about 50 boats,” he said. “It’s the first race of the year and it will be nationally televised, so just about all of the competitors will be out for this one in Ocean City.”

For years, the annual offshore powerboat races were a staple in the resort, but the tour skipped Ocean City for a few years. Last fall, however, Houck brought back the OPA’s National Racing Series to the resort.  Sponsored in part by Bull On The Beach, Crab Alley, Atlantic Hotel, Quality Inn Boardwalk, Harrison Hall, Flagship Ocean Front, Worcester County, The Dispatch, the U.S. Coast Guard, the town of Ocean City and the “Judith M,” the event will return the spectacle of high-speed racing to Ocean City’s coast on Mother’s Day weekend.

Offshore racing is not just a visual experience. Beach-goers will be able to hear the roar of the engines as boats pass, engines whining as they leap skyward, and crash through the waves and the wakes left by the competition. As the vessels soar by at speeds of up to 160 mph, the vibrant, rocket shaped boats become a flash of color and sound.  

Offshore racing is likened to the Indy 500, but this is the ocean and competitors take what Mother Nature provides with unpredictable waves and water conditions. Powerboat racing is a dangerous sport and safety precautions will include oxygen-equipped boats with medevac helicopters following the boats closely during the entire race.

“Everything is ready to go except for a few last minute details,” said Houck this week. “The only concern all week has been the weather, but this front we’re in is expected to clear out and the forecast looks perfect.”

The Ocean City race is the first in the summer-long series for the 2012 season and will be nationally televised, attracting race teams from across the country. Houck said Fox Sports is recording the event and will nationally televise a condensed one-hour version this fall. Teams will compete for price money, trophies and points, which will count toward being name National Champion race team for the 2012 season.  Bull on the Beach, which was the National Champion for 2011 and World Champion in 2010, will also be competing this year.  

After the Ocean City race, the series continues with races throughout the summer in Atlantic City, St. Clair, Michigan, Port Huron, Michigan, Long Island, N.Y., and Solomon’s Island in southern Maryland. The series concludes with the world championships in Jupiter, Fla. in October.

The event begins today, Friday, May 11 at noon at the West Ocean City Boat ramp and public parking lot, which will serve as the Race Village, on Sunset Avenue across from Crab Alley restaurant. Later on Friday at 7 p.m., a welcoming party for racers and their teams will be held at Wild Bills on Baltimore Avenue and all fans are welcome.

Tomorrow, May 12, the boats will be on display again at Race Village from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and fans will be able to mingle, take pictures and get autographs from all the race teams. Later on Saturday at 7 p.m., a welcome party for racers and their teams will be held at the beautiful Crab Alley restaurant, which will serve as race headquarters, for the entire weekend and all fans are welcome.

Finally, Sunday May 13 is Race Day and the boats on display all weekend will line up in the West Ocean City Harbor and proceed to the race course, which runs from 4th street to 34th street. All the race boats will depart in single file to the milling area in the ocean around 40th street.  The first race begins around noon with the boats racing in a modified rectangle from 4th Street to 34th Street for 7-12 laps.  The start/finish line is at the beautiful host hotel, the Quality Inn on 17th St.  The second race is set to begin approximately 2 p.m. to follow the same format.  

The best seats for the race will be on the “Judith M,” which will be the official start/finish boat directly in the middle of the race course where race officials and the media will be onboard. The event closes on Sunday May 13 with a 7 p.m. awards party at Crab Alley Restaurant and all fans are welcome.