Team Warpaint might be new, but crew knows how to win
By ED VAN EMBDEN For The Press, (609) 272-7210
Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Updated: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Powerboats travel at 140 mph on the water with the constant thrill of speed and the potential of danger.

There may be a fan market for that.

It also doesn't hurt to be featured in the yet-to-be-released film adaptation of television's "Miami Vice".

"There's a racing scene, a docking scene and a scene in the winner's circle." said Warpaint team manager and Somers Point resident, Patti Raffa, of the boat's inclusion in the feature film.

Team Warpaint, which consists of crew from southern New Jersey, is in its first year of competition.

In five races, Team Warpaint has three first-place finishes, including the New York Grand Prix, the Offshore Grand Prix in Ortley Beach and the Fountain Offshore Grand Prix in North Carolina.

The team's greatest success was in the World Championship Offshore Powerboat races off Key West, Fla., in November.

The event was hosted by two nationally recognized sanctioning bodies in the United States, Superboat International Productions, Inc. and APBA Offshore Racing Association, Inc., and featured top racers from around the world.

In the Super Boat Unlimited Class, Team Warpaint finished third behind winner Budweiser Select and DF Young.

"We took the year proving we're balanced," said Warpaint co-owner and boat driver, Bob Vesper, reflecting on the finished season.

Team Warpaint is also interested in the complete sponsorship and funding that their top competitors receive.

"The big sponsors [of boats] change their engines after each race. We change our oil," joked Vesper of Ocean City.

Warpaint is sponsored by local boat manufacturer Viking Sports Cruiser, which has a decal displayed on the boat's deck.

During the racing season the boats must be meticulously maintained.

It proved to be an advantage that Team Warpaint's experienced throttleman, Brick resident, Kurt Berger happens to be their head mechanic. In addition to maintenance on the craft, Berger also built the engines and maintained them through the season.

While Vesper is new to competitive racing, his 20 plus years of powerboat experience have eased the transition into competition with successful results. Warpaint's first race was at Sarasota in July, and even with their experienced throttleman, their status as a newbie racing outfit often preceded them.

"You're the new kid on the block. They don't know who you are or where you've come from. There is some hazing. Some will bump you. But once they see that you hold your ground, they start to respect you." said Vesper.

Vesper and Raffa are not involved in racing purely for the sport. In the tradition of several successful powerboat racers from southern New Jersey, they hope to win not just in the water but also financially.

The two believe that dedication to the fans is necessary for this reality.

"We love to talk about the boat with fans that come up to us. We try to appeal to the entire family ..., " said Vesper.

Team Warpaint is hoping an increased fan base for NASCAR and Indy racing will translate to powerboat racing.

"NASCAR, they're on a smooth track, and believe me, they get all my respect. But we're on the water, where Mother Nature is in control." said Raffa.

Danger is a reality for powerboat racers.

A power boat can sometimes be more than 75 percent out of the water. The air flow pushes the boat up and creates less friction, which means greater speed and the potential of flipping.

"You can't second-guess yourself out there," said Vesper. "You go with your gut and you don't hesitate."

Vesper has been a speedboat racer for more than 20 years. This is the first year he has raced competitively, and the issue of safety is always present.

"You're pushing the boat to the limit," said Vesper, "and it might be a false sense of security. But knowing there are divers and oxygen if you flip, certainly is a sense of security."

Powerboat racing is not to be confused with a leisure-time activity. The word powerboat begets words like speed, torque and intensity, and in a sport where a simple mistake may result in tragedy, racers must prove they belong.

If a year of success is any indication, Team Warpaint definitely belongs.

To e-mail Ed Van Embden at The Press: