Just after noon on a bright sunny Mother’s Day Sunday, Woodport Bay in Lake Hopatcong roared alive when the drivers from the Offshore Powerboat Association fired up their engines and headed for the start line for the first ever Lake Hopatcong Grand Prix. It was the first race of the season for the association.
Spectators came by the thousands, crowding the marinas, the restaurants, and even the homes of private residents. Over 1000 were at the Lake Forest Yacht Club, who rented their facility to OPA for the event. Spectators popped up along the shoreline, stealing a view of the races wherever it could be found, some even hiking to the outer shore of Liffy Island. And they came by boats and kayaks.
Some were curious onlookers, other hardcore fans, like Helene Graham of Landing.
She had a front row seat in her folding chair on the beach at the Lake Forest Yacht Club.
“I love boats but I don’t own one,” she said. “Normally I go to Key West to see the races. Now I can save some money because I’m here instead.”
For Jay Muller, a Lake Hopatcong resident who is a seven-time world champion throttle man and the person who’s idea it was to bring the races to the lake, the day could not have been more perfect.
“This is awesome,” he said smiling. “The turnout is great, there are a lot of people here. The course is so much fun because there’s a nice long straightaway and then a dogleg then two challenging turns.”
Veteran racers Howard Richardson, co-owner and driver of Twin Screws with Val Fiorillo as his throttle man, thinks the short 2.3 mile course will be challenging.
“It’s going to take a lot of coordination between driver and throttle man on this type of course,” said Fiorillo. Twin Screws calls Franklinville, N.J. home. Their boat finished second in the Class 4 race.
Jim Sigman, team Pump It owner and driver, and Mikey Dacey, the throttle man for team Pump It, said the Lake Hopatcong course is nothing like they’ve ever seen before. They ride a Class 5 boat, with a limited speed of 80 miles an hour. They finished third on Sunday.
“It’s a whole different ball game here,” said Dacey, 24. “It’s very small. This is the shortest race track we’ve ever been on.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun for the spectators though,” said Sigman, 25. “Great to watch it from the shore.” Anchored in Virginia Beach they are the youngest team on the circuit said Sigman.
Not only was Muller the man responsible for Sunday’s event, he also was the throttle man in two different boats, Broadco in the Extreme class (his boat finished second) and Talbot Racing in the Super Stock class, where his finished first.
According to Muller, $75,000 was raised for the purse, which is split between the top two or three finishers in each of the eight races held on Sunday.
“Everybody thinks it’s a beautiful area. A perfect day. I’ve heard a lot of the drivers say they want to do it again next year,” said Muller.
The Super Vee Lite class race neck and neck around turn two.
Three of the six boats racing in the Super Vee Lite class bounce around turn two, just past Liffy Island.
The Cleveland Construction Class 1 heads to turn three after passing a lone spectator sitting on the rocky shores of Liffy Island.
Country Serviec, racing in the Class 6 race, gives the thumbs up as they head down the first straight away.
Hurrican Force, a Class 6 boat, leaps out of the water coming around turn three.