Rewind. It’s early July at one of the biggest races on the Super Boat International circuit—the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix—which draws top teams from around the planet. For Superboat Vee Class contenders Mark Niemann and Kurt Jagel, racing at this Sarasota venue added highly-fueled ingredients to an already competitive mix: winning back-to-back wins in Niemann’s hometown, as well as garnering consecutive National championships.
The day was designed for racing as Niemann and Jagel took the green flag, powered their Phantom 9 Racing ahead and within minutes into the first round, grabbed a commanding 10 second lead over one of the most competitive classes on the course.
They were running hard and according to owner/driver Mark Niemann they were “perfectly dialed in.” Then Niemann said “a split second” changed everything and dramatically shifted their course from racing to rebuilding. The photos and video are worth far more than a 1,000 words as they capture the 30’ Phantom Speedster blasting through a series of waves as its outdrive transom plate broke, then the drive snapped to the left and knocked-off the trim tab.
Throttleman Kurt Jagel described it this way, “it was a little bouncy going through the dog leg, so I pulled back on the throttles a little and went full throttle coming out. Then, we were starting to go sideways…we have done this before, so it wasn’t alarming. But then it became pretty clear this was going to be different. We went upside down and came down on my side [of the boat). It was like a stick of dynamite blew up in front of me. The boat popped right side up and I grabbed my regulator, but I didn’t need it…my side of the boat was gone.” Miraculously, both escaped with minor injuries and “at the end of the day, the boat took the damage…we didn’t.”
However, both credit extra-mile safety efforts borrowed from Mark Niemann’s Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) racing experience for their minimal injuries. “We spent a lot of money on safety i.e., the Momo seats in the boat, special brackets that hold the seats in place,” Niemann said.
“We do safety our way. It was the safety aspects that got us through the crash,” Jagel echoed. “The seats were structural and protected our bodies almost like a helmet. They did a great job of keeping our bodies in line, where they should be. The driving suits definitely helped us out by protecting us from shredded fiberglass and fuel in the water. I think all those things added up and it tells a pretty impressive story.”
Flash forward. Still bruised and sore, Jagel talked to me last week about the disappointment factor that’s really settled in. “We were ready for this race. Mark was reading the water real well and I found a really good rhythm on the throttles…we were in sync. We are competitors and to lose when we were doing so well was difficult. We really lost our shot at retaining the national championship.”
While the crash put the skids to their national points chase this season, it wasn’t enough to knock them totally out of the racing game. “It’s our passion and commitment to the sport,” Niemann said. “It’s a big part of our lives…for me, my wife Kim, and Kurt. It’s like a virus.” The team’s next move: generate much needed dollars to launch a racing to rebuild campaign. “Nothing is designed to land upside down at 85 mph. It was a pretty violent crash, but the complete hull is in tact.”
Following a successful fund-raising party held at his boat service shop (Marker 1 Marine), Mark Niemann is overwhelmed with the show of support from fans and friends. “It was amazing,” he said of “people donating parts, Nor-Tech providing a big donation of fiberglass and resin. For me, it was a question…should I be embarrassed or should I be proud? It was hard to explain … it’s really touching, we all appreciate it. Every single penny will go back into the race boat. If there is any money left over, I’ll be giving it to Lucy [Nicandri]for the Suncoast Children’s Charity.”
Now their go-forward story reads getting back into racing as soon as they possibly can.
“The boat is on a trailer at my shop,” Niemann explained. “We’re working with Phantom and they’re prepping the mold and starting fiberglass on the new deck early this week. If everything goes as planned we’ll try a practice session at Clearwater.” Then it’s either to Key West or Qatar “depending upon eligibility for Superboat Vee Class racing at the Qatar Cup in January.”
Photos Courtesy: Cole McGowan / Phantom 9 Public Relations
Bobbye Miller Kenyon’s high performance articles have appeared in Hot Boat Magazine, along with fast-paced marine industry news in her Hot Sheet Column from 1997 – 2008. Her company, Offshore Public Relations, is a multi-faceted firm that has represented marine industry leaders and champions of the offshore racing arena. A native Miamian, she enjoys boating off the Florida Keys waters of Key Largo to Islamorada and the lakes of the Kentucky countryside.