MICHIGAN CITY | Nigel Hook’s small table in the lounge of William B’s Steakhouse at Blue Chip Casino reeked of cigarettes, ale and letdown.
The Lucas Oil powerboat racer and his teammates found no fault in Super Boat International’s decision to cancel the fourth annual Michigan City Great Lakes Grand Prix before it even started.
The unprecedented cancellation, the first pre-race, all-out cancellation in the history of the tour, which began in 1990, nonetheless left a taste bitterer than any beer. An accident or storm have been known to stop a race midway through, but no one had a chance to get started Sunday.
“We’re very disappointed,” Hook said. “We’re absolutely distraught. That’s why we’re drinking, as consolation. There’s no one to blame other than the god Neptune.”
That Hook chose to use the Roman name for Poseidon, mythological god of the sea and marine weather, probably stems from the fact his chief mechanic, Franco Galluzo, flies in from Rome for every race.
Hook, the throttleman for his 48-foot Silverhook boat, lives in San Diego but grew up in North Hampton, England. His telemetry expert, Kieran Ironmonger, travels from Nottingham, U.K., for each race, and driver Michael Silfverberg, flies from Stockholm, Sweden, for each race.
“We have people from all over the world who come in for this race, and they’re leaving unfulfilled,” Hook said.
Organizers and officials called off the race due to safety concerns.
Although the temperature was 82 degrees below a cloudless sky, waves were in excess of seven feet, creating uncertainty about any potential rescue missions amid the treacherous water, where the probability of a crash was high.
Helicopters and dive teams are on hand in case a boat capsizes. The course marshal and other experts deemed the water too dangerous to risk racing.
“Ultimately, it’s about the safety of all of the teams,” said Rodrick Cox, media relations director for Super Boat International.
“We certainly would have loved to have the race.”
Hook contended that his boat and its twin 930-horsepower V8 engines could have topped 100 mph in the conditions but conceded that smaller boats might have faced grave danger.
“The decision to cancel it was right,” Hook said. “Safety comes first.”
Three powerboat racers died in two separate crashes at the Key West World Championships in November.
Sunday, a rescue helicopter aided in the search for a teenage spectator who fell off a jet ski off the shores of Michigan City’s Washington Park while the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard had to assist another family whose personnel watercraft stalled in 8 foot waves. No injuries were reported in either incident.
The crowd was estimated to be 80,000 fans. Saturday's Taste of Michigan City and downtown parade drew nearly 40,000.
“The economic impact of the race probably didn’t change one iota,” said Jack Arnett, executive director of the LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Super Boat International and Michigan City have an agreement to keep the tour coming back for the next three years.
Hook, whose team is the leader in the Super V Extreme points standings, is excited about next year. His team, Lucas Oil, calls this a home race because of the sponsor’s base in Indiana and presence that includes Lucas Oil Stadium, where a speedboat is part of the concourse display.
“It’s one of those unfortunate things,” Hook said of Sunday’s missed opportunity. “The land, the fans and the crowds here are first class.”