STIHL took third-place overall in last week’s three-race Super Boat International Offshore World Championships. Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
Less than a year ago, Jake Noble was mourning the tragic sudden death of his father, Robert “J.R.” Noble, the 58-year-old leader of the Superboat-class STIHL team and one of offshore racing’s greatest benefactors. Devastated by the loss of the man he considered to be his best friend, Jake Noble wasn’t thinking about climbing into the team’s new 38-foot Skater raceboat and impressing the hell out of the entire offshore racing community — in a tribute to his father — during his rookie season.
But that’s exactly what happened when the 29-year-old Noble joined with veteran throttleman Grant Bruggemann this season on the Super Boat International circuit. Noble and Bruggemann didn’t run casual, non-competitive laps in a tribute tour to the man they both loved, the guy who brought them both into the STIHL offshore racing family. They raced hard, earning one second-place and three third-place finishes in offshore racing’s most competitive class.
And against the likes of WHM Motorsports’ Billy Mauff and Jay Muller and Performance Boat Center’s John Tomlinson and Myrick Coil, they took third-place overall at last week’s three-race Super Boat International Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla.
While neither Noble nor Bruggemann were particularly thrilled with Wednesday’s fourth-place finish after a poor start, both said they really began to hit their stride in Friday’s contest, where they finished third.
“We were chasing Bob Teague for the whole race and had Performance Boat Center behind us,” said Noble. “Grant and I gained a lot of confidence that day. We got to work on our communication and I felt even better about being in the boat with him.”
“Once we started racing on Wednesday I noticed it was all starting to happen,” said Bruggemann. “The harder I pushed Jake through the turns, the better he got and the better the boat felt. These boats are race bred. You have to push them to get them to perform.”
But things were about to get even better for the STHIL team, because in Sunday’s double-points race they finished second. Not only did they avoid the Pro Floors Racing rollover on the first lap in turn No. 1, a few moments later they swapped paint with Performance Boat Center in turn No. 2 and emerged unscathed and unfazed.
“It was my first time having someone bump into us,” said Noble. “After that, it took us a few laps to get around Cleveland Construction. Performance Boat Center had a 20-second lead on us, but by the end of the race I think it was down to 10 or 12 seconds. We raced all the way to checkered flag.
“I definitely wanted to win, but I could be happier with how the week went,” he added. “They were great races, and the competition in that class is just insane.”
Bruggemann said Noble’s driving skill, style and demeanor during races is much like that of his father. “They are so similar it’s uncanny,” he said. “J.R. started in a Stock outboard boat, but Jake got thrown into the deep end. He’s definitely on par with his father — he has the strength and he has the ability.
“A lot of people describe Jake as a gentle soul,” he continued. “During a race, he listens to me squawking at him and he just says, ‘I got it, I got it.’ Yes, Jake has got it. Billy Mauff is one of the best drivers in offshore racing history, and he was coming up to Jake and commending him on his turns and how well he’s handling everything. It’s a big confidence booster, not just for Jake and myself but for the entire STIHL team. And we have a great team around us. Everyone watches our backs and gives us the space we need, as well as everything else we need, to get the job done.”
Noble, Bruggemann and the rest of the STIHL crew plan to compete in 2017. But right now they’re savoring their most recent performance and enjoying a much-deserved break from competition. For Noble, the end of his week in Key West was bittersweet.
“The awards ceremony was pretty emotional because I just wanted to be with my pops,” he said. “I wanted to sit and B.S. with him about the race, and tell him how it went.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.