The Watercraft Journal: Michael, your recent 4-Stroke Stock class win and 3rd place overall at the 2020 Mark Hahn Memorial Havasu 300 is pretty remarkable – especially, the road getting you here. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!) Could you please begin by introducing yourself to those readers who don’t already know you?
Michael Sparks: Sure! My name is Michael Sparks, I’m 27 years old, and in active duty in the United States Coast Guard as a Machinery Technician. I’m married with a baby on the way.
WCJ: Next, tell us a little bit about how you came to know your teammate, Brian Smith.
MS: I first reached out to Brian 9 years ago (to the day, coincidentally) who at the time was the promoter of Region 5 racing. I was 18, with an old 2-stroke Sea-Doo. He taught me about racing, how to ride, how to conduct yourself as a professional racer. I helped him his last 3 years promoting with set up, tear down, going to the cities and helping plan the events. A year into our friendship, he took me to the 2012 Mark Hahn Memorial 300 as his mechanic and pit crewmen. I returned again in 2013 in the same role. Each time giving up my time and skill as a mechanic for a free trip, the chance to learn and grow, and to meet new people.
WCJ: The Hahn is pretty grueling on both man and machine. Now that we know why you chose Brian to be your teammate, tell us what model watercraft did you selected to ride.
MS: I had always been a Sea-Doo rider, from my very first 1997 XP to now. Learning about how big the RXT-X was, but how it was lighter, quicker out of the hole, and had a faster top end than the competition made it a winner for me. The 2020 also had a 18.6-gallon fuel tank, which was a must for the race. I received the ski the second week in January and immediately dove into it.
WCJ: So you started with a brand new, zero-hour 2020 Sea-Doo RXT-X 300? What made you choose to compete in Stock class?
MS: Yup! That meant I had to do the proper break in, fluid changes, and pour over the engine compartment to weed out any possibility of failure – checking and marking every bolt, hose clamp, and wiring connection. I also added chaffing gear to hoses, bilge pumps for safety, and finally, perfecting a critical quick refueling system. Our original plan was to compete in the Manufacturer Stock class, but the fear of getting beaten by a cheater that didn’t get caught, and knowing that together we had the potential do much better, we decided to build up the boat with just 3 weeks before the race. Brian got me in touch with Ryan Dalli of JetX Powersports. He spent hours on the phone discussing and guiding us towards what would be my final set up. The build was insanely simple: a RIVA Stage 2 tune and a custom tweaked Solas SXX prop, which resulted in a blistering 85mph at 8,600rpm.
WCJ: You mentioned you’ve got a baby on the way. We don’t suppose your wife joined you for the race?
MS: Not even close. Nine days before the race, while on my ship away from port in New Orleans, LA, I got a phone call from my wife; she was driving herself to the hospital in labor. I immediately called my parents who were 5 hours away and sent them to her aid, and I started planning how to get home. My wife had developed a severe cough that threw her into what she and the doctor thought was labor. It turned out to be Braxton Hicks contractions, but she was dilated slightly. The doctor gave us strict orders to minimize her activity while she had this cough, and to watch it closely. I called Brian and expressed my concerns and told him I just didn’t know if I was going to make it. It was now Wednesday, 3 days before the race and my wife is about over her cough, so I set her up the best I could with meals and got the house ready so she wouldn’t have to do anything extra in my absence.
WCJ: Yikes! That didn’t leave you with much time to get to Lake Havasu City, AZ did it?
MS: I left for Havasu on Thursday; a 23-hour, one-way trip. It took me all of the remaining two days before race day to just make it. The drive went without issue, stopping for the night to sleep and arriving at Body Beach in Havasu by Friday midday. Brian rode the RXT-X for the first time for a total of maybe 15 minutes. I rode it for about the same amount of time, satisfied it was ready. Now we had get everything else ready. We left Body Beach, got registered for the race, and ran errands all over town collecting the last-minute things we needed to make the next day possible. Brian got us hooked up with Ron, the owner of Paradise Wave Rental who lent us a SxS to use in the pits. When it came to a pit crew, we talked with a few other racers and friends, namely Doug White, Jimmy Roberts, and Billy Bates. They all agreed to help when they could, but obviously their own boat and teams came first. Just offering to help was more than we could ask for.
WCJ: Man, that’s a rough road just to get to the race. Once it began, how did it go?
MS: We had been watching the weather all week and the forecasts started out less than ideal, and just got worse. When we set off together on the parade lap it was raining with wind whipping from the southeast at nearly 30 mph, and it looked more like offshore than on a lake. We had agreed Brian would start. The LeMans-style start is the most dangerous point in the race as the 45 competitors are clustered together over a 10-mile loop. With no issues, Brian came in for his first pit stop. To our disbelief, it went excellent. We had better than average pit times with just the two of us, and better pit stops when the guys were able to help us.
That became the routine for the next 13 laps, until halfway through the race (the pit traffic was severely decreased from so many PWC breaking down by then), when Brian came in early and screamed, “FUEL! I NEED FUEL, QUICK!” Still being over half full, he quickly explained that we were in a battle for position and needed to offset our pit times. In order to be ahead when the race ended and be one more place up, this decision would end up wining us the race. He took off again, completed 4 more laps without stopping and gained us a lead on the boat that was closest to us. By the time we traded places, it was starting to lay down becoming an all out drag race to the finish. The RXT-X was running flawlessly and was blisteringly fast. I noticed that every lap I made I was never passed, and was consistently reeling in slower boats. At the time I didn’t know where we were standing, but I knew we had to be doing very well.
WCJ: Dang, that sounds like smooth sailing.
MS: Well, that’s when disaster struck. I had cleared the turn boat on the California side of the lake and quickly accelerated to over 80 mph when the course marshal’s boat just crossed the track. The wake of the boat came into view too quickly to turn or bleed of speed (even with the iBR system). I hit a 3-foot wall of water at full speed. I slammed forward into the bars, cartwheeling and skipping across the lake.
I surfaced gasping for air, ears ringing, and dazed. I began crawling towards the ski only to get picked up by a course marshal a few seconds later. I assured him that I was OK, and sped back to the pits. Brian noticed my shatter goggles, broken helmet, ripped wetsuit, and bleeding legs. The impact had broken the adjustable handlebars, leaving them stuck in the full up position. Looking me over, Brian asked, “Are you OK?” followed with, “I think we’re first in our class, maybe Top 5 overall.” I set about getting fuel and checking to make sure I was able to make my last laps. I replaced my goggles and ripped off my destroyed helmet visor and readied for my last turn out.
Finally, Brian finished his laps, and I set out to seal the deal. All I had to do was stay consistent and we would have a podium spot in the bag. On the tail end of my last lap, as I could see the scoring chute buoys, it hit home what we had accomplished. The months of work, the sacrifice and terror of leaving my wife at home, the help of Brian, Ryan, and everyone that made crossing that finish line possible. After crossing the finish, I went back out on the course instead of returning to the pits, and just sat on the ski knowing if I came in the emotions would get the better of me. The results were posted on the race trailer a short while later. We had won our 4-Stroke Stock class, and came in third overall.