August 12, 2017

For more than a decade as the president of the Conch Republic Offshore Powerboat Racing Association, which has been instrumental in bringing the annual World Championships to Key West, Larry Bleil has been building his knowledge in powerboat racing. But hosting just one race was just scratching the surface of what the Key West resident was hoping to do with the sport.

So last week he and his new partners announced the start of the Race World Offshore series, which will begin competition in 2018.

“We’ve talked about it for years and years and years and it’s finally come to fruition,” said Bleil. “It’s been in my mind for about the last five years, so it’s going crazy right now, absolutely crazy. It feels like how your life comes in circles.”

With an international sanctioning from APBA/UIM, the series is expected to feature simplified class structures, significant prize purses and national television coverage as a few of the perks for teams and fans.

“We want to build a classification for the boats that want to race,” said Bleil. “There’s no sense in making a classification and only two boats show up. We want to make it more competitive across the board and there are some classes that need adjustments. I also want to have classes run by themselves, so fans can also understand what’s going on.”

The Race World Offshore officials are working on surveying all potential future drivers about guidelines.

“This has to be run like NASCAR and once we get this set up we have to follow that set of rules,” said Bleil. “But while we are getting everything set up, we want to get everyone involved and get an idea of what everyone wants to run.”

For the inaugural season, the Race World Offshore will run a seven-race series, starting in Key West at a date yet to be determined between February and May — pending Navy approval.

“I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, so I’ll go off to other sites where I think would be good venues to put on a show,” said Bleil. “That’s the tough part about power boat racing, because you can’t always have everything at one spot and I want to have the whole circus together. I have this whole vision and the vision doesn’t work at some places, so that’s why we’ve looked to race up around the Great Lakes.”

Future stops could include a series within the series called the “Great Lakes Offshore Championship” during the summer months, while the 2018 schedule may include races in Texas, at the location of the Houston Shootout, as well as also in the Lake of the Ozarks, in the Cleveland and Buffalo areas.

“We have the teams coming, the organization is together, now I have to just go secure all the race sites,” said Bleil, who added he was going in a different direction with endurance runs including Aug. 17’s record breaking attempt to Cuba by the Lucas Oil team before this opportunity arose. “After that we need to buy the new trailers and equipment in order to start in up next year.

Bleil reiterated that safety of the racers and fans will be top priority for the new organization, which will feature all canopied boats as well as a full contingent of trained marine safety crews, paramedics and airlift capabilities. He added that they will also be adding more access to the teams, not just during race days, but also via the coming online content that will feature live streaming of races as well as interaction with the racers.

“It’s all got to change, the sport has to change,” said Bleil. “I’ve spent my whole life racing, first with motorcycles and then with cars and got out of racing only to get back into it again, so it’s come full circle and I understand it from all points of view. We just have to figure it out and have to be flexible to make it right, not just for the drivers, but also the fans.”

jwcooke@keysnews.com