SHEBOYGAN (NBC 26) — Mercury Marine is celebrating Mercury Racing's 50th anniversary with the Midwest Challenge Powerboat race this weekend.
Thirty-two boats are competing this weekend, including both offshore powerboat racing and circuit racing.
“Circuit is more like what you see street courses on cars, where the offshore is more longer, bigger boats that go further distances,” said Stuart Halley, general manager of Mercury Racing. “So the idea was to bring both of those types of powerboats together in one venue, which was tricky, because they don’t usually go to the same locations.”
Halley said circuit racing boats are smaller and work better in calmer water, while offshore boats can handle more choppy conditions.
Mercury Racing director of engineering Jeff Broman said the offshore power boats are 36 to 39 feet long and are designed to go up to 130 mph.
“There's basically a big tunnel underneath the boat, and so when the boat’s running at speed, air basically packs in that tunnel and lifts the boat up out of the water and flies it across the water,” Broman said.
Broman said the boats typically have two people in the cockpit to drive it.
“You have a driver who is responsible for actual steering and looking out, navigating, watching the other race boats, watching for the turning buoys,” Broman said. “And then you have a throttle man. The throttle man runs the throttles and also the trim, so the attitude of the engines, which changes the attitude of the boat as it's flying.”
Controlling these boats is not an easy job at first, according to boat chief Adrian Barrett, whose team is competing this weekend.
“You just can't throw just anybody in the boat,” Barrett said. “You have to understand what the boat is doing. You know, if the boat’s bouncing around, why is it bouncing around? You have to know how to correct it.”
Barrett said one important feature of these boats is the capsule where the driver and throttle man sit.
“The capsules, that's one layer, but there's actually another wall outside of it which is for support and then also in case of a crash,” Barrett said.
In his two decades of racing, he’s seen these safety features in action.
“We've had boats that have crashed at high speeds…the entire boat was, you know, crushed, but the capsule was perfect,” Barrett said. “And the guys got out of the boat and were a little bit sore but they're perfectly safe.”
Barrett said as their team prepared for this weekend, safety was a top priority.
“At the end of the day, the guys need to come home so safety is always first.”
And they also, of course, hope to do well in the races.
The weekend kicks off with a block party Friday, then races Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and event organizers said they expect 5,000 to 10,000 people to attend.