Johnny Saris, a Bolton Central School Senior, became the youngest speed boat driver in history to win a sanctioned World Championship race when he and Jason Saris competed in the Offshore Powerboat Association’s Orange Beach, Alabama meet in October.
“Johnny raced against the best drivers in the country and he held his own, as the results show,” said Jason Saris, the team’s throttle man and Johnny’s father.
Johnny Saris has been driving powerful offshore boats for years, but usually for recreation or in local poker runs. “There’s nothing like racing; once the green flag is waved, your mind is entirely focused,” said Johnny Saris. “And you never slow down for a wave.”
Racing a new boat custom-built by Performance Marine, the team placed first in their class in the first race, held on Friday, October 15.
To be named the 2010 Offshore Powerboat Association’s World Champions, the Sarises needed only to place third in Sunday’s races, but mechanical problems prevented the team from entering the boat in the second race, said Johnny Saris.
The races, held on an oval course about 150 yards off shore from beachfront hotels, attracted thousands of spectators. 40 boats, including a 50’ boat capable of 200 mile per hour speeds and a Lamborghini-powered 43’ catamaran owned by Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al‐Thani, took part in the event.
Known as “Thunder on the Gulf,” the event was not expected to take place; the Offshore Powerboat Association removed the race from its schedule after last summer’s oil spill.
But according to Jason Saris, Alabama officials, anxious to revitalize tourism along the Gulf coast, persuaded the OPA to re-instate the event. “We didn’t see any ill-effects of the oil spill, and they put on quite a show for us,” said Jason. “Bon Jovi and Brad Paisley played concerts on the beach, there were good crowds and the weather was perfect.” “We had as much fun spending time with the other racers as we did racing,” said Johnny.
As one of the youngest racers on the OPA circuit, Johnny Saris attracted some of the limelight, said Jason . “When an event is covered as widely as this was, some extra attention is expected,” said Jason. “There’s another racer close in age to Johnny, and people like to play up a rivalry.”
The Sarises began racing as a team in May, 2009, when they converted a recreational powerboat and competed in the first in a series of off shore races throughout the country. “Until 2008, no one under 18 was eligible to compete,” said Jason, himself a national offshore champion racer not so many years ago. “But fortunately for us, the OPA Racing Organization, changed the rules so that someone as young as 14 can compete as long as he’s accompanied by a parent or guardian. ”
Johnny Saris’s skills as a driver have increased exponentially during his first two seasons as a professional racer, said Jason. “He has a confidence that he’s earned through experience; that makes him a smoother, better racer; he’s not apprehensive, he knows what to expect,” said Jason. And he’s won the respect of the other racers.
“They take racing very seriously, and initially they were apprehensive about racing 80 miles per hour with someone who, for all they knew, was an inexperienced amateur,” said Jason. “Now, they treat him like a colleague.”
“The racing circuit is like family; once you’re in, you’re in,” said Johnny.
For Jason Saris, the pleasure in returning to the racing circuit lies largely in the fact that’s now able to race with his son. “We’re both enthusiasts and we’ve always wanted to do this together. A father and son who enjoy the same thing, getting to do it together: it doesn’t get any better than that. By the time most kids are sixteen, they’re out of their families’ lives. Even the time spent in the truck trailering the boat to races is quality time, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jason.
Racing may be a father and son activity for the Sarises, but it’s also good for Performance Marine, the business Jason established twenty years ago with his partner, Rick Gage. Tucked between the lake and Bolton Landing’s Main Street, Performance Marine is the place where racers from all over the country come to have custom built engines and drive systems made.
“If nothing else, the race circuit is a venue where we can demonstrate our competence, ” Jason says. “Customers are confident that we know our business.” Performance Marine also builds power systems for recreational boats and maintains boats for local customers. It’s a business that Johnny Saris hopes to run himself one day. “I’ll be going to college next year, and that may cut into racing. But a good education will allow me to continue what my father started. That would be even better than racing,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Saris Racing.
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