Like most everyone else who closely follows offshore powerboat racing, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the Unlimited-class fleet heading into this weekend’s Super Boat International National Championships in Clearwater, Fla. After all, seven boats have registered—a key word—for this Sunday’s regular-season-ending contest in SBI’s premiere class, which is mighty impressive, especially given the dismal—another key word—turnout in the class this year. That six catamarans and one V-bottom are registered to race as of right now is no guarantee that all seven will start, and only a fool would bet that all seven will finish, but it definitely bodes well for the weekend’s action.
That said, there’s just as much potential drama on tap for the Stock class, which I confess has become—after covering this sport for almost 20 years—my sentimental favorite. (When it comes to delivering action, however, the Superboat-class tops my admittedly subjective list.) In fact, the best battles of the day could be in this outboard-powered canopied-catamaran category, which at present has six entries with at least one more (according to a closely placed source) coming in.
First, there’s the ongoing Stock-class power struggle, and I’m not talking about the one for the national title. I’m talking about the twin-outboard-engine power that will become standard next year on each boat. To date, there has yet to be a final technical decree out of SBI on exactly what that will be, but as most devoted fans know Gary Ballough of FJ Propeller is pushing for the 200XS and Scott Porta of Papa’s Pilar Rum is in favor of the 300XS—and both teams have been touting their respective engine programs this season. As for the rest of the fleet, the engines of choice are the currently spec but out-of-production 2.5L outboards.
As it happens, FJ Propeller, Papa’s Pilar Rum and Talbot Excavating are the top contenders for the 2015 National Championship in Stock class. Three different boats, three different power packages, six different experienced offshore racers. Makes for fun stuff, right?
And then there is another compelling storyline for the class, a couple of young “legacy” racers, each sharing the cockpit with a cagey veteran. The son of former offshore racer Jerry Chastelet, Taylor Chastelet will once more team up with Chris Schoenbohm in Smart Marine Service, last year’s world Stock-class champion. Shortly before the 2014 SBI Nationals, Schoenbohm widened the tunnel of his 32-foot Doug Wright catamaran. This time around, he’s changed the hull with a blueprinted “11/10 variable speed bottom” just in time for the 2015 SBI Nationals.
As for fellow legacy racer Jake Noble, the son of the Stihl Superboat-class team owner and driver J.R. Noble, he’s back in the cockpit with veteran Stock-class racer Ryan Beckley in the Turtle Cove Marine Skater, which at 30 feet long is the smallest boat in the fleet. Clearwater represents something of a “return to the scene of the crime” for the younger Noble, as he ran his first race there with Beckley in 2014.
Did I mention that Beckley and Schoenbohm were teammates until they parted ways in June 2014? Mutual respect between these two guys is a given, as is their mutual drive to win and maybe—at least a little—their desire to finish ahead of one another. Even more fun stuff.
Absent from this year’s Stock-class fleet is Hulk, which took first place in Clearwater last year and also claimed the National Championship. Aside from competing in the Qatar Cup in February and the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix in July, Hulk teammates Robert Nunziato and Dan Lawrence have taken off the 2015 season.
So who’s going to walk away from Clearwater with the 2015 Stock Class National Championship? The odds-on favorite has to be Talbot Excavating, the 32-foot Doug Wright cat piloted by owner/driver Kyler Talbot and Jay Muller, which heads into this weekend third in season points—but not by a lot. Most longtime observers of the sport, as well as several competitors in the class, believe Talbot Excavating is the fastest boat and in the typically flat waters of Clearwater speed will be particularly crucial. Add their considerable experience in the cockpit together and separately—when Muller isn’t throttling Talbot Excavating he’s throttling the WHM Motorsports Skater in the Superboat class—and it’s hard to see them, barring a mechanical issue or some mishap on the course, leaving Clearwater without the national title.
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.