A fast, technical course, an enthusiastic crowd of fans, and some of the sport’s top champions and most promising up-and-comers – Pro Watercross’s Round One in Sebring, Florida, had all the ingredients for a great start to the 2021 race season. And it didn’t disappoint. Across the board, from tour management to racers to fans – last weekend’s season kickoff was a solid success.
“Pro Watercross picked a great site here in Sebring; a lot of people came out from the town to watch the races,“ multi-time world champion Troy Snyder said following Sunday’s motos. “I feel like they should have it here again – there were good restaurants, good water, a good atmosphere, and the track was good.“
Pro Watercross CEO AJ Handler confirmed that the tour will be returning to Sebring in the coming years, and talked with The Watercraft Journal a bit about the race site, the new course layout, and the future of Pro Watercross and the PWC sport.
“We are definitely coming back (to Sebring). I was nervous coming to this site this year; I was not sure how it was going to be received by the racers,“ Handler said, adding that the Sebring site is unique, with a different arrangement than any of the tour’s other sites, with shallow waters and a ramp that is in the middle of the course, instead off off to one side. Handler said that that response from the racers, combined with the enthusiastic welcome and turnout from area residents made for a great opening to the 2021 Pro Watercross Tour.
The changes in the typical course layout for Pro Watercross races was high on everyone’s list of top topics for the weekend. “They made the race course very technical this year – you had a split, you had an equalizer buoy, and you had a make-up buoy – one on one end, one on the other. It was a fast track that got real tight in the splits,“ Sam Nehme said Sunday afternoon, adding that the course layout and the weather conditions over the weekend made the races a thinking-man’s game as well as a matter of sheer speed and endurance.
“When you have a joker (equalizer) buoy, you really have to think and you have to strategize. You want calm water in front of you as much as you can; you want to see who is behind you and gap yourself so you can take that joker buoy and stay in front of them, so it really is all about the right timing and not running out of laps before it’s too late,“ he said.
Handler’s attitude extends beyond the first race, and beyond his own enterprise, however. “I feel excited about the future of Pro Watercross and the sport,” Handler added. “I can’t really pinpoint anything, but it was a very hard year last year, very challenging financially and physically, and it is great to see everyone out here having fun and there is a spirit of cooperation and a lack of animosity, even between the different race organizations, that was never there before,“ Handler said.
“We’re seeing a change in the culture, we’re working together on things like the rule book. They want their customers to come race with us and we want our customers to go race with them. The more racing the better,“ he said. That cooperation, alongside a surge in interest and participation from young riders, bodes well for the sport, he said.
“It excites me – it tells me the sport is getting back on track; we’ve got a lot of synergy with the young kids coming in, and we’re putting an emphasis on the young riders, and we’re seeing the following that they are bringing. Handler pointed out one of those younger riders, Matthew Richuk, as a highlight of the weekend. “He was on top of out this weekend,“ Handler said. “He came out to play and to win, and he did both.“
“He (Handler) tried some new things, and at first, I didn’t know if I would like the new course layout, but it was good,“ Snyder continued. “You have six or eight buoys on each side of the split, and that is kinda like what they do at King’s Cup and Havasu, and it makes it so the slower riders don’t block (faster skis) as much., so I did end up liking it,“ Snyder said.
“I like having the joker buoy – it makes it a little more mental, and you have to be logical when you take it. The only thing negative i would say is I wish he would have swapped the equalizer buoy and the makeup buoy so that you could have made the equalizer buoy at any time instead of having to pick a certain split.“
The extremely long back straightaway also impacted racers, not only during motos, but between races. “On a 2 stroke, with that long back stretch, you probably want to richen it up a bit to be sure when you’re holding it open that long, you’re not going to hurt the motor,“ Nehme said. A technical course and changing weather conditions requires between-moto work, Nehme added.
“The first couple races were really rough, and then it got a little calmer so the boat was staying planted better, so you didn’t have to worry about over revving as much. Then it got rougher again when the winds picked up, so you always are adjusting,” he said. “It’s not just the engine, either. It’s the setup – the ride plate, the scoop grate, keeping the ski hooked up…I would watch his race and say, OK, he’s bouncing a little bit, let me shim the ride plate, let me do things to compensate for the rougher water; but if it gets calm, all those things we did slow the ski down too much for a calm-water race.“
Pro Watercross’s continued relationship with CBS Sports is another aspect behind Handler’s optimism. “CBS Sports is filming the whole entire season, and that in itself is a huge accomplishment for us to get that exposure,“ he concluded. Despite the challenges of the changing water conditions and a new course layout, the weekend brought some tough-fought head-to-head battles and set the stage for a very competitive Round Two in Saint Augustine in early May.
Results: Amateur Ski Stock: 1. Patrick Sarenich, 2. Robbie Finlinson, 3. Joe Surette; Pro-Am Ski Stock: 1. Matthew Richuk; Pro-Am RunAbout GP: 1. Juan Lezcano, 2. Tory Snyder, 3. Alex Cushman; Pro Freestyle: 1. Chris Anyzeski, 2. Jason Stoyer, 3. Michael DePalma; Pro-Am Ski GP: 1. Matthew Richuk, 2. Camden Powell, 3. Jimmy Wilson; Pro-Am R/A Box Stock: 1. Tory Snyder, 2. Troy Snyder, 3. Erminio Iantosca; Sport Stock: 1. Haden Skellett, 2. Sammy Nehme, 3. Bobby Cardone
For full results, and information on the Pro Watercross tour, including Round Two in St. Augustine, visit prowatercross.org. For the full album of photos, visit www.watersedgephoto.online