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Next Race

Mon May 20 2024

Thunder On Cocoa Beach, Day 1 - Veteran Instincts

By Eric Colby | Speedonthewater.com

Owner/driver Reese Langheim and throttleman Julian Maldonado were donning their lifejackets and helmets in the 32-foot Victory catamaran, Jackhammer, prior to heading out for the first race of the 15th annual Thunder On Cocoa Beach event in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

“Julian said, ‘I think we need to make a change’ and I agreed so we moved weight around,” Langheim said. When it comes to making a setup change, Langheim said, “We both have to agree on it. There’s not one person in charge.”

The duo was competing against 11 other teams in the Super Stock race, the last competition of the day with a thunderstorm threatening. Some 58 teams made the trip to the surfing capital of Florida for the second event of the 2024 offshore powerboat racing season and the promoter P1 Offshore started with action on Saturday. There was a morning race for boats in the Bracket 500 and 700 classes, pole-position qualifying for Sunday’s Class 1 competition and the Super Stock finale. The boats ran clockwise on the 6.9-mile course.

For the Super Stock race that started at 3 p.m., the dozen teams started at the north end of the course with owner/throttleman Billy Allen and driver Randy Keys in the team’s new 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping, in the second lane outside of throttleman Ricky Maldonado and driver Logan Adan in the 32-foot Fazza, Steele Industries. Jackhammer was in lane three and owner/driver Cole Leibel and throttleman Gary Ballough were in lane four in the 32-foot Victory, Big East Construction.

The starter made sure the Super Stock boats were in position for a fair start and threw the green flag and Jackhammer leapt to the lead with Steele and Big East Construction in tow. Before the end of the first lap, owner/driver Daren Kittredge and throttleman Casey Boaz in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Northwing Offshore, pulled past Steele to claim third. The 32-foot Doug Wright, Celsius, with owner/driver Chris Hopgood and throttleman Jay Muller, held fifth while Team Allen Lawn Care settled into sixth as the team got used to the new boat. Before running a couple laps on the course in Cocoa Beach, Allen and Keys had 35 minutes of seat time in the new boat at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

Offshore racing fans have become accustomed to seeing Jackhammer pull away from the Super Stock fleet in the last couple of seasons. Big East Construction stayed with them for a lap or two until electrical issues took them out of the running. Rookie driver Connor Langheim joined owner/throttleman John Strama in the 32-foot Doug Wright, TS Racing Tit for Tat. Connor Toomey made his racing debut alongside throttleman Ryan Beckley in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Atlas/TNT Caddyshack, and the new team of Ryan Williams and Scott Blumberg raced for the first time in their 32-foot Doug Wright, Mom Ain’t Happy.

Even though Cocoa Beach didn’t serve up its usual challenging rough-water conditions, attrition played a role in the Super Stock race. CELSIUS dropped out with engine problems and Steele slowed.

When the spray settled, Jackhammer claimed yet another checkered flag, followed by Northwing and Team Allen Lawn Care.

While some questioned the tight grouping of the Super Stock boats at the start, Langheim thought it was clean and that everybody held their lane.

When asked why his boat could pull away from the fleet at the start yet again, Langheim said, “We have a good setup. We nail the setup almost every race. We analyze the water and the conditions before every race.”

He also credited the team at Manatee Marine Unlimited, which Langheim’s wife Sara co-owns with Julian Maldonado, with doing lots of testing of all the raceboats that fall under their responsibility. “A lot of it is the guys we have working on the boat,” the driver said. “If one person can’t figure it out, they throw another guy on it.”

When it comes to people questioning if he has an unfair advantage, Langheim said, “I just explain to them that all you have to do is put the time and effort into it. I’ve had three years of heck and two years of success. I started at the bottom and worked to the top.”

He expects Super Stock teams to challenge the Jackhammer team sooner than later. “Everybody in those races can challenge us,” Langheim said. “Anybody can win those races. There’s so much talent out there.”

After describing the start as “wild,” Kittredge said he and Boaz took a wide line to sweep the first turn, keeping the speed and rpm in the high band.

While the lead boats in Super Stock have been built in the last handful of years, Northwing is a 2011 hull that Kittredge says is a “unicorn.” The deck has a raised “hip” as it extends aft and Kittredge feels it creates an aerodynamic lift.

“We’re still figuring it out and finding little things that work here and incrementally, that helps in the long run,” Kittredge said. After finishing second overall at the Race World Offshore World Championship in Key West last November, the team made incremental changes to the boat’s strength and stiffness.

For Allen and Keys, who finished third, the attrition let them finish the race and gain valuable time in a new hull.

“We only had about 35 minutes on it before today,” Allen said. “We ran three laps in testing and then it was time to race.”

Allen explained that he asked Doug Wright to build the boat with all the latest safety improvements including stronger bulkheads and water diverters, as well as better seats and ratcheting seatbelts. The boat was rigged at Go Fast Boat Services in Lake of the Ozarks.

After making a run at the podium in their 32-foot Doug Wright, CELSIUS, owner/driver Chris Hopgood and throttleman Jay Muller retired with mechanical issues when one of the boat’s two Mercury Racing 300R outboards shut down. After the race, Muller said the motor in question cranked over fine so he had no idea why it shut down.

After their win in Marathon, throttleman Shaun Torrente and driver Sean Conner in their 32-foot S2 Powerboats had fuel delivery issues and withdrew early on Saturday.

Trusting His Gut

In between the two races held Cocoa Beach, the four boats in the Class 1 fleet ran individually to compete for the pole position/inside lane for Sunday morning’s race. Just before the 45-foot Victory, Team Defalco, left his shop in New Bern, N.C., throttleman Billy Moore decided he needed to make a change to the boat’s rudder. After doing so, he bought a rifle case to carry the stainless-steel blade to the airport. When he got to security, officials opened the case and asked what the shiny piece of steel was for. After he explained its purpose, “They said, ‘That’s the coolest thing,’” Moore added with a laugh.

Team owner Mike Falco bought the 45-footer to replace the Outerlimits he and Moore raced last year. Moore had run the Victory with different power under the CT Marine name and had some ideas about how to make it competitive when he began setting it up to run in Class 1.

He sent a set of propellers to Mercury Racing with requests for specific modifications and when he put them on the boat, it ran the way Moore had expected. Then when he and Falco would test the boat, Moore put a turn buoy on the Pamlico River in front of the house owned by Fountain Powerboats founder Reggie Fountain II.

“Reggie calls and tells me how the boat looks entering and coming out of the corners,” Moore said. “I’ve known the guy for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him, and it gives him something to watch and talk about.”

All that preparation paid off for Moore and Falco when they grabbed the pole position, completing a lap on the 6.9-mile course more than 5 seconds quicker than the second-place finishers, John Tomlinson and Brit Lilly in the 47-foot Victory, Morpheus 8. Throttleman Steve Curtis is filling in for owner Tyler Miller in the Skater Powerboats 438, Monster Energy/M CON, with driver Myrick Coil and they will start in lane three. The new in-boat pairing of owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Alex Pratt will be in lane four in the 50-foot Mystic, dfYoung/Good Boy Vodka.

Mild Cocoa

With much of south Florida under a heat advisory, temperatures in Cocoa Beach topped 90 degrees on Saturday and winds were mild at about 10 mph. This made the conditions for the 15th annual edition of Thunder on Cocoa Beach less challenging than they have been in previous years.

In the first race of the day, seven boats were entered in Bracket 500, but the 28-foot Pantera, Tunnel Vision, with driver Michael McColgan and throttleman Robert Bryant, had to withdraw for the second consecutive race with an engine problem. Additionally, the only outboard-powered boat, the 28-foot Monza, Sweat Equity, with owner/driver Greg Direnzo and throttleman Ryan Beckley didn’t make the start.

The 30-foot Spirit, YabbaDabbaDoo, with driver Steven Adams and owner/throttleman J.D. Vines had the inside lane alongside Cocoa Beach’s own J.J. Turk, who drove his 30-foot Phantom, XINSURANCE/TFR/Golf-N-Gator, with throttleman Nick Buis, and the 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof/Team Farnsworth/Goodcars.com, with owner/driver Craig Belfatto and throttleman Elijah Kingery. George Ivey and Damon Marotta were making their debut in the 26-foot Joker, Deez Nuts/Ivey Racing, and owner/throttleman Fran Vellutato partnered with new driver Thomas Crowley in the 26-foot Scarab, Rum Runners.

When the green flag flew, Turk and Buis got a good start, moving to the lead. YabbaDabbaDoo looked to be having issues from the start and pulled off after a lap. After the balance of the fleet battled for a lap or two for second, Bulletproof settled into second. Rum Runners ran third followed by Ivey Racing.

After five laps, Turk and Buis took the checkered flag, with Belfatto and Kingery in second and Vellutato and Crowley in third.

“We were fortunate we got a good start, got out and ran our own race,” Nick Buis said. For Turk, the win was his third in the last four years.

“I had a hometown curse going for years and we flipped that three out of the last four years,” Turk said. Describing the conditions, he added, “This course is a really fun track and we had perfect water for Class 5.”

Kingery is pulling double duty in 2024, driving Team Farnsworth’s 40-foot Fountain in Super V class. He said he didn’t want to break out of the 75-mph top speed for Bracket 500 and knew Turk and Buis would have an advantage with the inside lane.

Kingery wasn’t even sure he would be racing Saturday after the starter on the Warlock’s engine gave up and his father, Bill Kingery, had to jump the solenoid with a crescent wrench the team found in a tray in the tow vehicle’s door.

Elijah Kingery also said he wasn’t sure if he would be running the Warlock in 2024 because he thought Win Farnsworth, who owns the Fountain would want him to concentrate on that boat.

“Win said, ‘Why aren’t you defending the championship?’ I said, ‘I thought you wanted me to focus on the Fountain,’ and Win said, “I want you to defend your title.’” So Farnsworth added the Warlock to his fleet of owned and sponsored boats.

Four boats took to the water to battle for three laps in the Bracket 700 class while the 21-foot Hustler, Scratch N Sniff, ran unopposed in Class 3X. At the start, throttleman Owen Buis and driver Ricky Harmeyer moved to the lead in their 22-foot Activator, XINSURANCE/Statement Marine. Their teammates, driver Mark Fitzgerald and throttleman Jerry Hartman ran second in Hartman/Statement Marine/XINSURANCE in their 22-foot Velocity. Connor Langheim drove and Mike Haak ran their 21-foot Superboat, Jackhammer, and driver Greg Blutter and throttleman Craig Chiddenton were in another 21-foot Superboat, Proven Marine.

Thanks to a strong performance by Owen Buis and Ricky Harmeyer in the Bracket 700 class, Nick Buis wasn’t the only one in the family to go home with a checkered flag.

The two team Statement boats pulled out to a lead and their own close battle for the lead. When the spray settled, it appeared that the Velocity finished first, but the boat exceeded the 60-mph speed limit for the class, giving Buis and Harmeyer their second win of 2024. Jackhammer shut down during the race, which let Proven Marine take over third, but because of the breakout by Hartman/Statement/XINSURANCE, speedonthewater.com has not received the official results from P1 Offshore when this story went live.

After the race, Owen Buis was pleasantly surprised with the win. “They did really good getting around us,” he said of his teammates. “It was a friendly race.”

Reproduced from an original article by Eric Colby with the kind permission of our media partner, SpeedOnTheWater.com.

SpeedOnTheWater.com Results Standings

Photo Credits

Ronny Mac RonnyMac.com