(Mar. 16, 2004 - KEY WEST, FL)
The norm for most offshore powerboat racing competitions is to do your fighting out on the water. Today, the battle has come on-shore with three separate boat-racing organizations fighting for the right to host their own World Championship races in Key West, Florida.
The problem is that the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in Key West has decided that there will be only one event allowed to showcase a fleet this year, and just who it will be, is a decision that they don't want to make.
The APBA Offshore Racing Association, who carries a 5 year sanctioning license through the 100+ year-old American Power Boat Association (APBA), based in Detroit, Michigan, is just one of the groups that wants to be heard. They contend that the week of November 14th - 21st, 2004 belongs to them. Perhaps they are right, and only time will tell.
In 2003, a group then called the APBA Offshore Powerboat Racing, L.L.C., a licensee of APBA, had a rift between their organization and their Key West event producer, Lee Mills. Unable to resolve their issues, APBA Offshore made the last minute decision to move their World Championships to Orange Beach, Alabama.
During that time, a group of APBA Offshore's "Super Series" members, upset with the switch in travel plans, and more so with the fact that they wanted to race in Key West, requested certain concessions be made or they would boycott the APBA Offshore Orange Beach World Championships.
Despite the fact that the concessions were given, the boat racers, whose teams compete in what APBA owns and has branded as the Super Series fleet, decided to go to Key West anyway.
The APBA Offshore L.L.C., on the other hand, continued its Orange Beach World Championships with a solid backing of 57 competitor teams. A few of the Super Series members, while in Key West, however, decided it was time to start their own organization for the "betterment of the sport", and have now formed the Offshore Super Series Powerboat Racing Association (OSSPRA), taking the APBA owned Super Series name, and a select few of the former APBA Offshore racers with them.
In January 2004, Mills contacted Bob Bull, a businessman and powerboat racer who acquired the newly issued license from APBA in Detroit, formed what is now the new APBA Offshore Racing Association. Mills offered APBA Offshore his previously applied for dates of November 14th - 21st, 2004.
With it, was the scheduled clearance of all cruise ship traffic on the Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday race competition dates. Bull was ecstatic.
"I contacted our President, Jim Poplin, who filed the appropriate documents with the USCG so they would be aware that Lee had given us his dates, and permits. We moved on to filing all the additional documents necessary to bring our teams to Key West," said Bull.
Enter into the picture a group of Key West business owners turned race promoters calling themselves the Conch Republic Offshore Racing Association (CROPBRA), who are pushing full speed ahead in the attempt to get the City to back Key West resident, John Carbonell, President of Super Boat International Productions (SBI), who previously ran his SBI World Championships in Key West.
Carbonell, whose 2003 World Championship boat count, billed at between 80 - 100 boats had a showing of only 29 teams last year, has clearly been unable to compete with the 100+ boats that APBA Offshore has brought to Key West under Mills production in 2001, 2002.
With the split from APBA Offshore last year, Mills group had only 30 boats in the actual competition, a number that reportedly disappointed the citizens of Key West and the City itself. Even Mills admits that.
Carbonell, in an attempt to further increase his boat count for his Key West Event, on February 17th, signed a letter of intent with OSSPRA to unify their World Championships, previously scheduled from November 7th - 13th, 2004, the week prior to the APBA Offshore Racing Association's dates.
On March 3, 2004, CROPBRA, headed by local businessman Bill Spottswood, announced that the Super Boat International "Key West World Championship Race" had moved its race week to November 14 - 21, 2004, the very same dates as the previously scheduled, and applied for, APBA Offshore Racing Association event.
"The change was made after discussions with representatives of the City of Key West, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and members of our Board representing the Chamber of Commerce, hotels, restaurants, and attractions", said Bill Spottswood, president of CROPBRA.
"Never did we imagine that the other racing groups and their promoters would come in on top of us and request the same dates," said Bull. "It‚ just not something that this sport needs right now."
"At best, SBI, who averaged approximately 29 boats per event last year, in teaming up with the Offshore Super Series, who boasts 31 members, many of whom are still registered members of APBA Offshore, will only bring the city a total of 60 boats. In my opinion, that number is still far below the count that the City, the Monroe County Tourism Development Council, and the District Advisory Council would expect for one single boat race," said Poplin, whose APBA Offshore captured the lions share of the teams, averaging 72 boats per event last year.
Added to the mix is an $80,000 budget for funding the event, which is also up in the air.
"We have tried numerous attempts to get representatives from both Super Boat International and the Offshore Super Series to sit down and work out a feasible plan for all three groups to bring the racing to Key West on the same week. We devised a plan that we felt would work, and in that offer was the opportunity to use our dates for everyone. That plan has never been heard," added Poplin, who met with Officials from both the City and the USCG on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
The issues may be resolved shortly. Time has been set aside during the upcoming General City Commission meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 16, 2004 between City of Key West Officials, the APBA Offshore Racing Association and representatives from the other groups. Poplin says they will present their unified plan to the City then. A meeting is also scheduled between the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and the APBA Offshore Racing Association on March 31, 2004, but by then it might be too late.
"The City of Key West has the final say in all of this, but we hope the citizens who wanted us to come back will use their voice to let them know," said Poplin, who recently announced that the Florida Keys Children's Shelter would be the recipient of the revenues from the event, should APBA Offshore prevail.
"Some people are under the guise that we do not have "big boats‚ in our series and that is not the case. We have our performance series, which are boats that run under speed bracket racing, and go as fast as 200 miles per hour in our Performance Extreme Cat, Vee and Turbine Classes. We also have our Factory Series and Super Series Teams. When APBA Offshore comes to an event, we bring with us professional teams with corporate sponsors, and we promote the heck out of all of it. There is no substitute for APBA Offshore Racing," said Poplin.
Bull is optimistic that the City may be able to intervene and get the groups to form one unified effort, with all net proceeds being put back into the community. One thing is clear. If APBA Offshore does not bring their boats to Key West again this year, their teams will support APBA Offshore wherever they race, just like they did in 2003.
On the other hand, if APBA Offshore does come to Key West, historically, those racers who want to compete will come to Key West, no matter who operates the race.
APBA Offshore is the only American based offshore racing authority to award the prestigious Union Internationale Motornautique (U.I.M.) World Championship Title. Their teams wants to come to Key West, because for many, it's their one shot at earning that title, and making history. A history traditionally made in Key West.
"We have filed every document required of us, and have followed all the procedures we can take to get this event to fruition. Now, it's in the hands of the City," said Poplin.