Manchester, Ohio has a world speedboat champion
Jim Simmons has been around boats most of his life. Growing up in the North Hill area of Akron, he first became involved with the boating industry in the fourth grade at Bridges Boats. From there he went to Hibbard Marine where he worked for 13 years. Then in 1984 he opened his own dealership, Simmons Marine, in the Portage Lakes. In 2005, he moved the dealership to its current location on Manchester Road (in Akron), just south of Portage Lakes State Park.
For a long time he was into cruising the great Lakes in his pleasure boat. All that changed in 1999 when he began to crew for a race boat. He worked on the race crew for several years until the owners decided to sell the boat in 2003. By then he had been bitten by the racing bug and decided to buy the boat from them.
After purchasing the boat, he began racing in what was then called “Factory 2 Class”. Unfortunately, in early 2005 this class was dissolved by the American Power Boat Association, Super Boat International (APBA/SBI), so Jim began to look for another racing group. He finally settled on the Offshore Power Boat Association (OPA). This group had eight classes of racing starting with the Extreme Class, which involves speeds well over 140 mph and then worked its way down by increments of 10 mph. Simmons chose Class 4, which was limited to 85 mph as its maximum speed.
What that meant was that during a race the boat could never go over 85 mph. If it did, the boat would be disqualified. To keep track of the speed accurately the boat is equipped with a GPS system that monitors the speed every three seconds.
“One of the biggest problems you have while racing in rough water is to keep the boat within the 85 mph speed that we are limited to,” said Simmons. “There is a real temptation to to push the throttle a little more as a boat closes up on you in a race, but if you go over the limit, you are out. So you really watch your speed with a critical eye.”
Fast in the water
His 1999 boat is a 34-foot Phantom powered by stock 500 horsepower EFI Mercury Marine Racing engines and was custom painted by Eddies Auto Body in Norton, Ohio. It can go over 85 mph, but as Simmons says, “I wouldn't want to run much faster in an open cockpit because of the safety factor.”
The races vary from location to location. They are on both freshwater lakes and the ocean. Normally a race is between 50 to 70 miles in length. It usually has four turns, but can have six or more depending on the race location. The winner is based on who crosses the finish line first without breaking the class speed limit and keeping within the racecourse parameters.
Simmons does not actually pilot the boat. He is the throttle man. The driver is Jason Zolecki from Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, who Simmons met at a race. He was not getting enough races in and Simmons offered him a spot with the team with a promise of being in more races. Jason took him up on the offer and they have been a team ever since.
The race circuit runs from April till November. Normally, Simmons travels between 20,000-30,000 miles each year to races. “I am very lucky because I have a great crew that watches over the shop while I am on the road. Without them, I would not be able to go to as many races as I do.”
Eight Races Last Year
In 2007 he took part in eight races. This year there are 15 races that he could possibly go to but he hasn't decided yet how many he will enter.
A race normally takes two days. Saturday is given to test runs and the actual race takes place on Sunday. Before a race each crewmember has to pass a physical and a breathalyzer test to make sure they are able to race.
“Sometimes during practice you damage your boat or something breaks,” commented Simmons. “We have actually had parts brought down from the shop overnight to fix the boat so we could race the next day,” he said. “Having a good working relationship with Mercury Marine Racing and our sponsors keep the boat running its best.”
During the race, the crew of two sits in custom made seats and don't wear seatbelts. The seats actually hold them in due to how they are constructed. Some crews have three people and some crews stand rather than sit. Boats with enclosed canopies have seatbelts for the crew so they won't get thrown around inside the boat. Each crewmember also wears a special life jacket. A race usually lasts less than an hour.
Since 2004, Simmons has done extremely well on the racing circuit. In 2004, he took third in the Factory 2 Class at Key West, Florida and three divisional championships in the APBA/SPI. In 2006, he took Offshore Power Boat Association (OPA) Championship at Cambridge, Maryland and the OPA World Championship in Destin, Florida. He missed overall highpoints champion in 2006 by 3 points out of 108 boats.
His boat took the National Championship again at Cambridge and then went on to take the OPA/SBI World Championship at Key West in 2007. The national and world championships are two and three-day races with the best combined times determining the winners.
There has been some racing on the Great Lakes up by the Detroit suburbs. These races are sponsored by the Blue Water Offshore Racing Association, Inc. (BWORA). You can visit their site at www.stclairerace.com.
The Great Lakes Offshore Powerboat Racing Association (GLOPRA) had a strong presence on Lake Erie in the past. Perhaps if more interested Lake Erie powerboat racers contact GLOPRA (firstname.lastname@example.org), Lake Erie powerboat racing might make a comeback. GLOPRA's website is www.glopra.com.
The OPA events will be held in Maryland, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee. For more information on the Offshore Power Boat Racing organization visit www.oparacing.com. Most of the 2008 APBA/SBI will be concentrated in Florida, North Carolina and New York. For more information on Super Boat International Racing visit www.superboat.com.
Jim Simmons has exhibited his racing boat at various sport and boat shows. With the records he now holds, the 2008 race circuit should prove very interesting in terms of competition. Anyone wanting to contact Jim Simmons can reach him at 330-882-9200, visit his shop at 5325 Manchester Road in Akron or visit him online at www.simmonsmarine.com.
The above story was originally printed in the Suburbanite, a GateHouse Media publication, serving the area between Akron and Canton, Ohio. It has been reprinted with their permission.
Editor's Note: Because of their involvement in powerboat racing, Simmons Marine has noticed a marked increase in their servicing of performance boats. Simmons Marine is open year ‘round, employs certified technicians, uses genuine factory repair parts and has been servicing all types of boats for 40+ years.
REF: Mid America Boating, 2008