By “Doc” Michael Janssen and Matt Trulio | Photos Provided By “Doc” Janssen
WAITING… In the boat racing world it’s called milling; the counterclockwise churning of the boats, waiting for a green flag. We mill before a race, we wait. All we can do during this time is wait and observe. The engine is running and turning rhythmically, the boat is in the water and we can feel the wake causing it to subtly rock back and forth. In our headsets, we no longer hear the team, but we know that they are all there on shore listening and waiting with us. Just knowing that they are there lowers my blood pressure.
We wait, in the heat. The kind of heat that has no air, no movement and is suffocating. I look at the thermometer and it reads 120 degrees. The air is so still. The heavy racing helmets, racing suits and gloves — we are dripping in perspiration. Still we wait. At that moment, our entire world exists through an 18-inch windshield, in a cockpit no bigger than the front seat of a very small car. I sit in front of the huge unmuffled engine. There is no sound that can penetrate that deafening roar. The sound is so loud that it has become silence inside my head. It is so still and quiet that I would hear a pin drop.
My wheelman and I don’t talk, the talking is over. We don’t plan, the planning is over. We don’t prepare, that was done weeks ago. At that moment, there is nothing left to do but wait and anticipate and reflect as we mill and wait and sweat.
A week before the race I had waited and reflected: I reflected on my team and how lucky I am and how professional they are, how every aspect of the race is planned, every movement of the boat, of the trucks and trailers, the supplies and final fuel calculation. Where will we dry pit and what will we need at the cranes? Months before the race, I had chosen the race schedule and my team plans; we had planned and we planned again. Every aspect, every movement, everything had been painstakingly planned before I executed anything.
The day before the race we watched the weather, the water, the current, the tide and the time. We stared at the corners, we watched, we took note, we studied. We went over our adverse safety exit strategy for the final time.
The day of the race we anticipate, the time for reflection is over. We are here to win and only to win.
We have two mantras. First and foremost: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Second and equally as important: Second place is just the first loser.
I stare at the pace boat. All we want to do is go. At that moment we get a green flag. The engine roars, the air moves, the race starts and we rocket forward and never look back! The planning and waiting and anticipation and milling and waiting is over. The time to celebrate the past is over. We are shaping the future until the end of the event. We are alive!
— Doc Janssen
WITHOUT LIMITS — For Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats founder Mike Fiore, there was no such thing as “done.”
A little more than a year ago, we stood on the Pamlico River shoreline in Washington, North Carolina, and watched history unfold. Created by Mike Fiore of Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats in Bristol, Rhode Island — the company Fiore founded 21 years ago at the ripe old age of 23 — an Outerlimits SV 43 V-bottom rocketed across the water at more than 180 mph for an entire kilometer. In fact, the 43-footer did it twice to establish a new American Offshore Powerboat Association “kilo record” of 180.464 mph.
A little less than a year ago, we stood in a banquet hall in Fresno, California, a few miles from the home where Mike lived with his wife, Shonda, and their two infant children, Jet and Moxie. We were there to celebrate our friend, Mike Fiore, who had died in the hospital after sustaining grave injuries in a high-speed powerboating accident on the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri. Mike was piloting a catamaran with its owner, Joel Begin, during the annual Lake of the Ozarks SHOOTOUT when the boat took flight and crashed violently on the water below.
The truth is that we — like everyone who knew the brilliant 44-year-old — are still reeling from his death. We think about him every day. We often reach for our mobile phones to call him when something strikes us as odd or funny or silly or just plain annoying, for Mike appreciated all of those things. He was blessed with a keen sense of humor as expressed through a laugh that could only be described as a cackle, and a finely tuned B.S. meter. From our homes in California and Colorado, Mike and I spoke about one thing or another every week. He was more than a business associate with a good sense of humor, even more than the premiere high-performance powerboat builder of his generation.
He was our friend.
BORN TO BUILD
“There’s nothing else I really want to do other than get up and build boats. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still do the exact same thing. Nothing would change. It’ll be that way I’m sure until the day I die. — Mike Fiore, from Speed On The Water digital magazine, July/August 2013
Mike Fiore was born into the high-performance powerboating business. His father, Paul, founded Hustler Powerboats in Calverton, New York, and the company made a name for itself in the 1980s by building slippery-fast, stepped-hull V-bottoms. The son was quick to follow his father, and by the time he was 13 years old Mike was rigging wire harnesses for his Hustler. By the time he graduated from high school, he had done every job there was to do — from lamination to painting — in the plant. Although he was “never the strongest student,” as Mike freely confessed, he was more than bright enough to have gone to college and excelled. But that wasn’t in the cards. He wanted to be a boat builder.
Mike built his first model, a 37-foot V-bottom dubbed the “37 Stiletto,” in a Holbrook, Long Island, New York, warehouse in 1993. As the Outerlimits model line grew, Mike quickly ran out of space and eventually moved the company to its first plant in Bristol, Rhode Island, in the early 2000s. With its legacy of sailboat building, Bristol was a lot more “friendly” to boat manufacturing than Long Island, and when Outerlimits outgrew is original Bristol digs, Mike had no trouble finding a larger facility.
Outerlimits’ second — and current — facility offered more than lots of space, the kind you definitely need when your smallest model is 37 feet long and your largest is 52 feet. Headquarters for a former sailboat manufacturing company, the plant featured a post-curing facility, essentially a huge “baking oven” for carbon-fiber-and-epoxy-built sailboats and parts. That was a good fit for Outerlimits, as in the early 2000s Mike abandoned conventional lamination materials such as fiberglass and vinylester resin — which was then the standard in go-fast powerboats — for lighter and stronger carbon fiber, Kevlar and epoxy.
The early to middle 2000s were heady times for Mike. His company grew with his customer base, an elite group of often-repeat clients that could handle writing $300,000 to $1.5 million checks. Business was booming to the extent that Mike (and his longtime friend and customer Joe Srgo) had started racing an Outerlimits V-bottom in an offshore racing circuit overseas. No project was too extreme, and for his growing list of clients, no price was too high. Outerlimits had released its first catamaran, a 48-footer, to mixed reviews, but the company’s elite V-bottoms remained its bread and butter.
And then came 2008. The recession in the United States changed the powerboat industry forever, especially in the high-performance segment. Noted production builders such as Fountain, Donzi and Baja simply stopped producing models, and Fountain eventually filed for bankruptcy. Custom builders including Outerlimits went into survival mode, which meant layoffs. Bristol is a small town and Outerlimits was a relatively large employer. Pain and hardship were doled out in generous amounts in the community.
“Surviving the economic implosion of 2008 — that was by far the hardest struggle,” Mike said in the Speed On The Water July/August 2013 article celebrating Outerlimits’ 20th anniversary. “It was a total departure from the norm. I mean, we were building 25 to 30 boats a year, had a handful of dealers and dealer floor-planned financing. You have clients and things are rolling, and all of a sudden things aren’t rolling anymore.”
“We kind of saw it coming,” he continued. “I mean, we aren’t smarter than anyone else, but we got back from the Miami Boat Show in 2008 and said, ‘Well, things aren’t as strong as they were last year, maybe we ought to do something about it.’ We started to get rid of some employees, started thinning the herd a bit with some of the new guys who weren’t so important. Coming to grips with the implosion and knowing it was going to be a problem for a long time is what allowed us to survive. We made the necessary sacrifices and changes. But my lowest moment was when we had to cut staff back and cut things back to survive the recession. That was pretty bad.”
BORN TO BATTLE
The day before the V-bottom kilo record fell in April 2014, we visited Reggie Fountain, founder of Fountain Powerboats and soon-to-be-former kilo record holder, at his waterside home in Washington, North Carolina. We’d known Fountain for years and — gracious host and Southern gentleman that he is — he took us to lunch at his favorite Italian restaurant where, in typical Reggie Fountain fashion, he ordered most of the menu for his guests.
Fountain was well aware that Mike and company were there to break his record. Until the day we arrived, however, the mission had been more or less “top secret.” Out of the boat business since parting ways in a bitter dispute with the new owners and managers of the company he founded, Fountain seemed to know that his record would fall to Mike. And he was comfortable with that.
“That Mike Fiore, he knows a few things,” Fountain said in his classic Southern drawl and phrasing. “If I was in the market for a V-bottom, I’d buy an Outerlimits.”
Not always had Fountain been so complimentary of his former rival. Despite that Fountain built “production” go-fast boats and Mike’s creations were purely custom, the two developed a healthy contempt for each other in the early 2000s. Neither had a good thing to say about the other, and the acrimony peaked during the kilo runs Fountain hosted on the Pamlico River in front of its plant in 2004.
Outerlimits brought a boat to the event with a pair of prototype 1,600-plus-hp monster supercharged engines that proved — at best — temperamental. According to Mike, the engines “were a nightmare” and developed problems in testing before the event. So Mike and his crew left North Carolina and headed back to Bristol without making a record run. Fountain, who set a kilo record that weekend of 171.88 mph with offshore racer Ben Robertson, maintained that after Mike had seen the Fountain V-bottom run he knew his boat couldn’t beat it and bailed out.
Fountain didn’t stop there. The ads he ran in Powerboat magazine after the event not only trumpeted his company’s kilo run record, they accused an unnamed person of leaving the event “under the cover of darkness.” Mike was enraged with Fountain for creating the ads and with Powerboat for running them, and the memories of those ads stuck with him. Those memories were erased when the SV 43 V-bottom he built for Sgro, who joined driver Brian Forehand in the cockpit for the record-breaking kilo runs, destroyed Fountain’s record 10 years later.
“It’s pretty freakin’ cool,” Mike said in a May/June 2014 Speed On The Water digital magazine article on the accomplishment. “This took 10 years of patience and letting some of the insults roll off our backs to finally reclaim the V-bottom speed record. Step one was to survive and stay in business. Step two was to put the right team together. If it weren’t for Mercury Racing and Brian we couldn’t have done this.
“Dave Scotto provided us with the Mercury Racing 1650 engines from his boat, and we can’t thank him enough,” he continued. “Without all the work from [event organizer and Outerlimits customer] Mark Tuck, this event never would have happened. Mike Janssen and Joe Sgro brought their boats. I am so grateful for my team. It wasn’t about one person, that’s for sure.”
Though Mike’s first creation was a 37-footer, he quickly stepped up his game with stepped-hull models from 44 to 52 feet long. (Most had twin engines, although a few were outfitted with triples.) He grew up boating with his father in the rough waters off Long Island, where there’s something to be said for the size of the boat. His preference as a builder was to create large, deep-cockpit V-bottoms with well-padded interiors and grab handles within easy reach of every seat in the boat. Those boats were offered in traditional “stand-up” versions dubbed “Super Legarra,” and sit-down versions he called “Super Vee.” As a custom boat builder, Mike never failed to provide options for his customers, and they started in the cockpit.
But in 2011, Mike made a major departure from his big-boat vision by introducing a single-engine model called the SV 29, which was offered only in a sit-down version. The 29-footer was Mike’s attempt at a more affordably priced Outerlimits, but it still boasted a sticker price between $200,000 and $300,000. The SV 29 was an excellent performer, easily topping 100 mph with a 600-hp engine. It was not, however, one of Mike’s more commercially successful models.
But it was incredibly successful on the racecourse. Built in early 2012, the Snow Mountain Brewery SV 29 took three consecutive world championships in Super Boat International’s Superboat Vee class. On its way to those titles, the 29-footer never lost a race.
In fact, it was so competitive, so far ahead of the competition, that after it won the first race of the Super Boat International (SBI) 2014 offshore racing season, the organization slapped it with parity restrictions in attempt to slow it down. Still, of all the Outerlimits race boats Mike built, the Snowy Mountain Brewery SV 29 was the most successful (three consecutive World Championships, World Kilo Speed Record and remains undefeated in competition).
With a pair of its larger models, Outerlimits stepped into the Lake of the Ozarks SHOOTOUT record books in 2013. In Joe Sgro’s canopied SV 43 race boat — the same boat used to set the kilo record — Mike achieved a top speed of 152 mph on the liquid-mile course. In longtime customer Dave Scotto’s open-cockpit SL 52 pleasure boat, Mike ran 150 mph. By any measure, those V-bottom achievements were outstanding and not likely to be eclipsed in the near future.
FAREWELL TO A FRIEND
Our journey with Mike Fiore ended in late-August 2014 when he died a few days after his shocking crash during the first morning of the SHOOTOUT. We watched in horror as the new 46-foot Outerlimits cat he was piloting with his friend and customer Joel Begin lifted off, tumbled through the air and reconnected violently with the water.
At first, we simply prayed he was alive. Then, after that prayer was answered, we prayed he’d live through the night. He did. And when that happened, we began to entertain hope. We knew his recovery would be long — his injuries were severe — and difficult. More than two days after his horrific crash, Mike Fiore was alive and responsive to his wife, Shonda, and his brother-in-law, Dustin Whipple. We began to imagine ourselves visiting him, calling him and encouraging him through his extensive recovery and, when the time was right, taking a boat ride with him again.
But that’s not the way things turned out. During the late afternoon on August 26, Mike Fiore lost the battle for his own life. Shonda Fiore lost her husband; Jet, Moxie and Sophia lost their father; and we — like so many others — lost a great friend we cherished.
And the world lost one of the greatest innovators and high-performance powerboat builders it has ever known.
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