MICHIGAN CITY | When an athlete is lodging in a casino/hotel, eventually it’s time to take a gamble or two.
That was the mentality of Tony Marcantonio, the owner and throttle man of the J.D. Byrider boat that proved to be the biggest and fastest in the field at Sunday’s fifth annual Michigan City Great Lakes Grand Prix, a stop on the Super Boat International tour.
Whereas racecar drivers can plan for track conditions, boat racers have to guess what water will be like the day after practice, and estimate ideal mechanical settings, such as propeller types and weight placement.
“In NASCAR, pavement is pavement, but the pavement often changes out here,” Marcantonio said. “This win was totally about our setup. We went for rough race water, and that was the best way to set up.”
When everyone else zigged, J.D. Byrider and its crew zagged, and the deviation paid off with a win in the Super Boat class, the largest class of boats. Marcantonio’s boat, a 38-footer boasting twin 760-horsepower engines, surged to a huge lead through the first race of the two-race event and held on for the class victory.
Because the rest of the series races are in and around Florida, the Canton, Ohio-based Byrider team considered it a home race with the team’s corporate namesake based in Indianapolis and supporting the team through the Saturday night parade and tossing more than 800 T-shirts into the throngs gathered at the Taste of Michigan City running concurrent with the parade.
“One thing about this race — this is a little jewel out here,” Marcantonio said. “The water is challenging, mixed up and tough. Our last three races were in the ocean. We have the ultimate respect for this place.”
After last year’s race was canceled due to waves in excess of 7 feet, the only letdown this year was a shortage of boats entered for various reasons, chief among them being economic conditions.
More than 80,000 local fans lined the beaches to watch the two races, which awarded boats for aggregate laps and time with a sound break between races for mechanical adjustments.
The course was shortened by a mile, and the often-used two-race format was new to the Michigan City leg of the tour this year. Had inclement weather been predicted for Sunday, the contingency plan would have moved the race up a day to Saturday.
Weather on Sunday was ideal for a boat race.
The Super Boat class had three entrants, and Marcantonio’s team kept its lead in part because the popular Stihl team missed a buoy in the second race.
Snowy Mountain Brewery in Wyoming sponsored Colorado spinal surgeon Dr. Mike Janssen’s victorious team in the Super Vee Class, which had one other competitor.
Janssen has debuted a new boat in each of his four races in Michigan City.
In his class, boats have to be 30 feet and weigh at least 4,750 pounds. His carbon fiber Outerlimits boat, the only carbon fiber vehicle in the field, used multiple bags filled with lead weights and redistributed them before the second race to pass Red Hot Racing on the first lap of the second race and maintain control.
“This is our favorite race, and the primary reason is the street party, the vendors and the idea of doing something that’s big in the community,” Janssen said.
That altruism wasn’t lost on the GB Racing team of Gary Ballough and first-time racer Jason Welch, who won unopposed in the Super Boat Stock Class and felt that no competitors showed up because the GB points lead was too much to overcome in the tour standings.
Their boat, sponsored by Welch’s healthy energy drink company Top Starz Energy, helped raise money for Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization that has given eyesight for more than 45 children between the ages of 3 and 9.
“Our driving force to tow our own boat 25 hours was the reception we’ve gotten here over the years,” Ballough said. “In respect to this race and these people, we wanted to show up even though we had the points title sewed up. It was worth the effort to come here.”
Boats that pay tribute to largesse and engineering such as the GEICO and Cintron boats were among those not making the trip.
Other winners were Team Kilt in the Manufacturer Production P3 Class and Lucas Oil Silverhook in Super Boat Extreme. The latter was leaking, of all things, oil, and it had to be mended heavily between races.
“It was a gorgeous day with big water, and that added to the collective excitement,” SBI media relations director Rodrick Cox said. “The crowd looked bigger than it ever has. The parade was bigger. It seemed everything was bigger and better.”