Ludington’s own Kelly Smith scored another water cross victory Saturday at the 39th annual International Jet Boating Association (IJSBA) World Finals in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Smith, a former professional motorcycle racer, won first place overall in the jet-ski racing event, competing in the Sport GP class aboard a Huracan-R. His average was 1-1-2, with first-place wins in two of three races and a second-place finish in the third.
Saturday marked his second IJSBA World Finals win, and his third world championship victory in water cross.
Based on the point system for the event, Smith told the Daily News he knew he had the overall win locked down by the time the third race got underway.
“I won the overall, because I was pretty consistent,” Smith said. “There’s really about six guys in that class that are really fast. So it’s really difficult to be consistent if you get really good starts.
“The first two (races), I started in the lead and stayed in the lead… In the third race, I had a bad start, and passed my way to second… I had a 19-point lead going into that final race, so I knew I easily had the win overall. I wasn’t pushing it, didn’t have any reason to. Nothing but my pride, and I had to put that aside and just focus on the overall win.”
That meant he could afford to go easy, and not risk over-burdening his jet-ski, which is a custom-made labor of love built by Smith and his teammates on Team Faith.
Smith said the work and effort that went into the jet-ski’s design made the win extra special.
“It was great. This is actually the third world championship that I’ve been able to muster up and win on, but this one was actually the most special to us because we built this jet-ski from the ground up,” Smith said. “Our team — Team Faith — custom built this jet-ski, so we’ve been working hard on that — working on getting it better over the course of two years — and really felt like we had it to a place where we could take it to compete and win. So we took it to the biggest stage in the world.”
Smith said the parameters of the event allow for a lot of modifying, and Team Faith’s jet-ski utilized 1,500-cc, 4-stroke engine.
“We put the most emphasis on the bottom portion of our hull, and that’s what really makes them work in my opinion — the design at the bottom,” Smith said. “We took things from different models of jet-skis, put them together, made a mold and we made our own fiberglass hull.
“Everything else is custom components, like the Kawasaki 1500 motor.”
Smith thanked his teammates, founder Brian O’Rourke — who headed up much of the design — and Jason Kavnar.
“The two of them really did a majority of the work,” he said. “The team’s based out of Nashville, Tennessee. I fly to the races, and maybe fly a day early and do some testing. I don’t do a lot of the development. But at least I’m able to go to a handful of races a year, be a part of the team, and reap the benefits of the win.”
Saturday’s event brought the 2020 season to a close, and it was a shorter season than usual due to COVID-19, according to Smith.
“This is it for the season,” he said. “We hope that for 2021 things will open up a bit more as hopefully COVID restrictions relax. The main national tour we were planning to do in 2020… canceled everything and had no events. I only went to two regular national tour events this year, then went to the world finals.”
He said he’s eager to get back to a normal season, because it’s about more than just winning for Smith and his team.
“As the name suggests, we (Team Faith) also do… ministry, so not only do we go to races, we also provide a chapel service to racers and their families,” he said. “We try to bring a little bit of a church service to the race community and just try to serve.”
He said the event drew a good-sized crowd considering the pandemic, with viewers and vendors doing their best to maintain social distancing.
“It was awesome to get another (win),” Smith said. “We’ll see what next year brings, but this was special because it was our project boat that we built.”