The History of OPA Racing
There is probably no single race more famous than The Benihana Offshore Grand Prix. This race was known as the Indy 500 of Offshore Racing and was held in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, during the 1970's. The New Jersey Offshore Powerboat Racing Association has been the host club since racing started in Point Pleasant Beach some 40+ years ago. NJ Offshore (NJOPRA) is still a very active club with over 100 members and has kept the tradition of Offshore Racing alive on the Jersey Shore for all those years.
Over the years, the name of the Point Pleasant Beach race has been changed each time a new sponsor was obtained. It's been called: The Hennessey Offshore Grand Prix, The Benihana Offshore Grand Prix, The Ray Catena Offshore Grand Prix, The New Jersey Offshore Grand Prix, The War at the Shore, the Jenkinson's Offshore Grand Prix and the year of 2005 it was called The Jersey Boyz Offshore Grand Prix.
During the years, the race course has gotten smaller and shorter. In the Benihana days, the race was over 200 miles long running laps from NY's Fire Island to Seaside Heights NJ. One lap was about 80 miles. For the spectators, and there were many, the boats came by once an hour and only three or four times depending upon the race course configurations. Today the racecourse is a small 4 mile oval as close to the beach as possible. Since the beach drops off quickly, the boats usually run within 150 feet of the surf. Even the outside leg can be clearly seen from the shoreline.
The NJ race has also seen its share of sanction flags. Originally, the race was the premier APBA National Offshore Race. This race ran on the third Wednesday of the month of July like clockwork. People would book their vacations around race week, as it was always a source of excitement. Back in 1975 a fast boat in NJ was a 21' Searay with a 188 Merc I/O. So when the big boats came to town, it was quite a show.
Ed "Smitty" Smith has taken over the reigns at OPA and together with Augie "The Godfather" Pensa, President of the Jersey Boyz Offshore Racing Crews, NJOPRA and the Twisted Sisters, they will bring back the days of the old Benihana. Welcoming racers from all over the country to come and experience what it's like to race the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey Shore.
Hail to the Chief
"Smitty" was born and raised in Nutley, NJ. Moved to the Jersey Shore in 1987 and purchased his first boat. For 25 years he took his family to vacation in Key West - hoping that they wouldn't catch on that SBI held their World Championship races there. In 1990 he was introduced to Scot Blue, the Director of MONOC and began volunteering as a safety boat for the races.
Always threatening to "someday" own his own race boat. He worked out of a pick up truck picking up piece work at Ocean Beach Marina doing fiberglass work. Soon after, began working for the Truesdales at the marina now known as Forge Landing Marina. In 1990, he took over the service department and Smitty's Marine came to be.
Over the course of fifteen years, Smitty paid an annual visit to a man known as "old man Kurt". He was the owner of the 33' Viper known as the Mary K. The Mary K raced many legendary Benihana races over the years. Never winning a single race. Smitty would make him an offer every year in hopes to one day buy that boat.
The Viper was one of three made. For shortly after production began there was a fire at the plant and the mold was ruined - never to be produced again.
In 1997, Old Man Kurt could no longer handle the boat. His arthritic knees and failing body would not allow for him to climb in and out of that old boat. So when Smitty came a knocking for his annual visit he was all too surprised when Old Man Kurt said "take It".
The Mary K was transformed into the purple and yellow dinosaur very well known as "WAZZUP". The P Class favorite. This father and son team took offshore racing by surprise.
Anthony was awarded Throttle Man of the Year by his peers in 2002. They won World Championship status 3 out of 4 years of racing. Smitty has been voted President of OPA and has launched offshore racing into a world of it's own. This will be the last season for the purple and yellow favorite, but stay tuned for what's ahead.
CONGRATULATIONS to Team WAZZUP for putting the Production Classes on the map and for making history!