NGK Spark Plugs Formula One Powerboat Championship 2nd Annual Gulfport Grand Prix
Fans of the NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship series saw intense, white-knuckle racing action at the 2nd Annual Gulfport Grand Prix in Gulfport, FL, June 2-3, 2018, as 34 racers fought the punishing conditions of Boca Ciega Bay. Only the hardiest tackled the roughest water of the year, with a slew of new winners in each of the three classes; Formula 1, Formula Lights and Tri-Hull.
Taking the win in both heats as well as the final heat in Formula 1 was #24 “Clover Construction”, Spencer Love out of Santa Rosa Valley, CA, whose composite DAC hull was more manageable in the brutally rough sea water than most of his competitors who were piloting slightly smaller hulls. But despite how it appeared from the shore, Love and his black and gray DAC were dealing with an assortment of issues, which produced some challenges for their team.
During the warm up laps for the F1 final, Love’s helmet radio was hit with water, taking it out of commission. This meant Love would now be unable to communicate with his crew throughout the race.
The race start was delayed for more than an hour after airborne wildlife spotters saw several manatees passing slowly across the bay. Racing on the ocean requires helicopter surveillance of possible wildlife, to keep both drivers and sea life out of jeopardy. Since all of the F1 competitors had been launched by crane into the water by that point, they were put on full stop until the sea life had completely cleared the area.
The wind, waves and afternoon heat grew even more intense during the hold, and several race boats took on water and had to be lifted out as the spectator flotilla on the water created new swells not far off the course, overly restless and eager to see the action start. Among the F1 boats that took on water was John Edde, #55, a rookie from Indiana in his black and red Pugh hull, and the driver who came into the weekend as NGK F1 points leader, the 2017 NGK F1 Series 3rd place champ, #20 Ashton Rinker of Riverview, FL driving his yellow Caniff hull.
As the boats lined up at the start dock after the hold was lifted, the wind pushed F1 pole sitter #24 Love’s boat sideways, forcing him to roar away several lanes off course. Love explained, “The wind kind of killed us because it kind of blew the front of the boat over and I was aimed about 10 lanes inside the course. I had to try and straighten it out going down the straightaway.”
This little misstep allowed #03 Dustin Terry to jump out into the lead, followed by #53 Greg Foster. NGK Spark Plugs F1 Powerboat series points leader, #20 Ashton Rinker, did not fire, and it would feel like an eternity before he would get his boat restarted and back on the course.
Terry worked hard to maintain his lead in the rough surf, doing all he could to hold off Foster and Love, thrashing and hopping for several laps before Foster made his move and passed him. Moments later, Terry encountered a sizable roller, tripping the boat and smashing the front of his boat violently into the next wave. The “stuff” broke the windshield and canopy, but thankfully, Terry escaped with only a few scrapes.
Love, who was directly behind Terry at the time of the crash, reported, “I was in second or third right behind Dustin (Terry) when he stuffed and I saw the back of his boat go up in the air, and all of sudden I saw a big splash.”
The restart saw #53 Foster on the pole, #24 Love sitting in 2nd, and #2, Tracy Hawkins of Willis, Texas – the Round #1 Port Neches winner – starting in the 3rd position. Hawkins, who had won the previous race, had a frustrating weekend as he struggled with starting issues in every heat. Next to Hawkins was #4 Wes Cheatham in the 4th spot and #57 David McMurray – who had moved all the way up from his original 9th spot – starting in 5th.
Love, who is famously known for his racing cowboy boots and was dressed in what is probably the first customized “boot cut” driver’s suit, jumped right out into the lead and held off an unrelenting challenge by Foster. Hawkins -- just as he had experienced before -- didn’t fire right away and fell into mid-pack, but hard driving got him back up to 4th. Ashton Rinker fought his way through the pack and finished in a hard fought 3rd.
Commenting that this was the roughest water he’s ever experienced as a racer in the F1 category, Love credited his staying in the outside lanes in the reverse-order heat as a key to his victory in the rough water. “It was good. It was rough. It was fun. I didn’t think I’d really get a chance to be able to win all three heats. It is just a dream come true to be able to do that this weekend. It was a lot of fun doing battle with (Foster). He leaves you just barely enough room and if you can stick with him, at the end of the day you really did something,” Love added.
Formula 1 Final
- SPENCER LOVE #24
- GREG FOSTER #53
- ASHTON RINKER #20
- TRACY HAWKINS #2
- TYLER WELCH #59
- MARK WELCH #95
- BILL JOULE #38
- REUBEN STAFFORD #5
- DAVID MCMURRAY #57
- JOHNNY FLEMING #9
- TOM LUDWIG #81
- TRAVIS YATES #99
- WESLEY CHEATHAM #4
- DUSTIN TERRY #03
- TIM KRAFT #15
- FRED DURR #96
- JOHN EDDE #55
The Formula Lights Final was a big surprise, as it was won by California rookie racer, #01 Kelly Ireland of “CB Technologies”, in only her second race. Ireland, a 30-year water-ski racing veteran, finished at the back of the pack at Round #1 in Port Neches, TX just one month prior.
Prior to the first heat, Ireland had decided to switch to her back-up boat, which is heavier and bigger, but this switch meant she would have to start last on the dock. But it proved to be a brilliant move as she was able to use the extra ballast to motor her way to the front while the other competitors were gnashing along in the rough waves. Ireland’s boat was built by Spencer Love’s father, Rick, and is same hull that won the 2017 Gulfport Grand Prix with Jared Wallach as driver.
Round #1 winner, #8 Jeremiah Mayo of Richmond, TX, skipped his own high school graduation to make sure he didn’t miss out on capturing some very important points for his shot at the Series championship.
Mayo’s weekend got off to a rough start when he “stuffed” just shortly after taking 1st in qualifications. His accident occurred directly in front of #13 Grant Schubert, causing them to collide, gashing the sponson of Schubert’s hull, which continued to produce problems for him throughout the weekend, eventually finishing 5th in the final. Mayo was able to get back into the groove and capture 2nd place in the final heat behind Ireland.
Another racer who had rough time in the qualifying heat was 5th generation driver, #40 Austin Cheatham of Hempstead, TX. Just moments after the start of the first heat, Cheatham ran across a monstrous roller that saw him disappearing nose-first into Boca Ciega Bay, ripping off his canopy. Like many others, the accident saturated the boat in salt water which can cause detrimental effects to the electronics. But even though he was relegated to start in last position, Cheatham fought his way to the front to finish 3rd.
Veteran racer, #21 Jose Mendana, Jr., finished 4th and rookie racer, #45 Debby Mobley, scratched, figuring she would seek less turbulent water to hone her emergent racing skills.
Formula Lights Final
- KELLY IRELAND #01
- JEREMIAH MAYO #8
- AUSTIN CHEATHAM #40
- JOSE MENDANA JR. #21
- GRANT SCHUBERT #13
- DEBBY MOBLEY #45
The qualifying heats for the Tri -Hull class saw three different winners; #52 Chris Rinker winner of Heat #1, #8 Jeremiah Mayo taking Heat #2, and #25 David Willis winning Heat #3.
The final race of the Tri Hull class was a “Rinker Boating World” sweep, as the top three racers all compete on the same team. Winner, #52 Chris Rinker, had to find a way around his father, #10 Jerry Rinker, who shot out into the lead as the flag dropped.
Jerry Rinker did all he could to keep Chris from getting around him, including a pre-race talk; “We had a little talk. I said, ‘Don’t crowd me. Stay away from me – I’m going into the turn on the buoy and you go around on the outside.” But as Chris made his pass to the front, Jerry couldn’t hold him off. “I tried to hang with him, as you probably noticed, 2-3 laps and then my teeth started jarring and my eyeballs started rolling – it was so rough!” Rinker was thrilled that his team finished 1-2-3, and praised Neal Barclay, who tunes the motors for all three racers. “Going with my son beside me. And to find out that Darryle got third – he’s our other team member -- it was unbelievable.”
Chris Rinker, who debuted a brand new boat at Gulfport, talked about chasing down his father in the lead. “It’s always tough running down my dad. He’s a tough competitor. Even when I was going to try to lap him, he hosed me down two or three times. He wasn’t giving any room. And I expect that. We have great competition when we are in the water and he does a lot with the boats after we are done.”
Rinker added, “The competition is really tough. Everybody’s running fast so it’s just who can hold it together for 20 laps. Fortunately for me, I had a broke reed before the race started and it held out. I actually was able to finish.”
Third place went to #110, Darryle Middleton, who had to beach his boat in an earlier heat due to taking on too much water. Jeremiah Mayo, winner of Round #1 in Port Neches, finished in 6th place in the final heat..
It was unclear at press time whether Chris Rinker would be attending Round #3 in Nashville due to important company commitments that same weekend. But he was hopeful it would pan out. “I definitely want to be at that race.”
Round #1 winner #8 Jeremiah Mayo finished in 6th place.
Tri Hull Final
- CHRIS RINKER #52
- JERRY RINKER #10
- DARRYLE MIDDLETON #110
- DARREN WARE #54
- JOHN OTTINGER #33
- JEREMIAH MAYO #8
- CHARLIE DONALDSON #2
- KLINT DILLARD #56
- TRAVIS YATES #99
- WHITNEY FLETCHER #9
- DAVID WILLIS #25
Greenlight TV will film the NGK Spark Plugs racing action all season long, producing six 30-minute shows airing on CBS Sports Network. Watch the “The Gulfport Grand Prix” highlight reel on the CBS Sports Network on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 8:30 PM ET, and the repeat show at 11:30 PM ET.
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula One Powerboat Championship is heading to Nashville, Tennessee for a Friday and Saturday “Thunder on the Cumberland” race, to be held June 15-16, 2018 for the third stop of the season. Follow the series on Facebook to find LIVE Streaming on Saturday.https://www.facebook.com/NGKF1PowerboatChampionship
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship is ecstatic to have the strong commitment of title sponsor, NGK Spark Plugs - The Ignition Specialist. Since 1936, NGK Spark Plugs has been the world leader in technology, innovation, and world-class quality in the design of spark plugs and oxygen sensors. Today, NGK manufactures NGK Spark Plugs and NTK Oxygen Sensors for virtually every automotive manufacturer in the world.
NGK has built a reputation for quality and reliability, and a commitment to excellence continues to be the driving force behind the company’s advanced research and development programs.
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