Competing in Class 6 in their 24-foot Joker V-bottom powered by a 600-hp engine, Rich and Pete Smith of the Smith Brothers offshore racing team are the epitome of Offshore Powerboat Association racers. First, as their surname suggests, they’re brothers—and OPA is loaded with family teams. Second, they’re passionate about the sport. Third and most important, their spirits are indomitable. Quitting isn’t part of their vocabulary.
Still, no one would have blamed Rich or Pete Smith had they sat out of the rest the 2017 season after their accident—in the truest sense of the word—with Repeat Offender during the OPA contest in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. The late-May accident claimed the life of racer David Raabe and sent the Smith Brothers raceboat to the ocean floor, some 35 feet below the water’s surface for nine days. Between the emotional toll on the teammates and the condition of their 26-footer, the future of the Smith Brothers team racing 2017 season was very much in question.
“The first month was tough,” said Rich Smith, who drives the boat. “We were still reeling over the fact that David had lost his life. The saving grace for us was that we didn’t contribute to the accident. We were just minding our own business and got caught up in something that was not of our doing. Not that we don’t feel badly—the sorrow is always going to be there. We will always have the emotion that someone died hitting our boat. But we don’t have the guilt of, ‘What could we have done differently?’”
So Rich and Pete Smith took deep breaths, gathered their courage and moved forward. And by the time OPA National Championships in Lake Hopatcong, N.J. rolled around in September, they were back on the water for the first time since the accident.
“We looked at Lake Hopatcong as a sea trial,” said throttleman Pete Smith. “We just ran out of time and didn’t get any testing before rolling into New Jersey OPA for the Nationals.”
Small issues dogged the Smith Brothers team throughout the Lake Hopatcong race, and they finished in fourth place. The glitches surprised no one involved with the team, given the boat’s condition after it was recovered from the Point Pleasant Beach event.
“It was a mess,” said Rich Smith, who drives the boat. “The boat sat in silt, and it was like talc. As soon as the boat moved around, and it was rough in the ocean during those days it was underwater, silt got into everything. If water could reach it, silt got in. We shoveled 1,500 pounds of silt out of the boat.”
While it probably would have been easier, though a lot more expensive, to build a new boat with new engines, Rich and Pete Smith and their devoted crew chose to essentially rebuild the V-bottom. The project included repairing fiberglass damage, replacing seats and the dash, re-rigging and re-wiring the entire boat. They rebuilt the boat’s engine, which included replacing the ignition system, electronic control unit and injectors, and drive.
They repeatedly flushed the fuel tank and system, and had to flush both again since the Lake Hopatcong race. Even there, the silt issues in the fuel system persisted.
Now they believe they’re ready to defend their 2016 Class 6 World Championship at the upcoming OPA contest Nov. 15-19 in Englewood Beach, Fla.
“I think we’ve got it,” said Rich Smith. “We ran on the Delaware River last weekend and everything went great. Now all we have to do is wash the boat, load it up and get to Englewood Beach. We’re excited to be heading to Florida.”
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.