September 28, 2022

Organizer cancels Long Beach Sprint Nationals speedboat races – Press Telegram

Long Beach will not hold speedboat races at Marine Stadium this year — and maybe never again.

A permit appeal process has been delayed to the point that it’s too late to stage the 2022 Long Beach ARP Sprint Nationals speedboat race, said Ross Wallach, longtime president of the Southern California Speedboat Club and organizer of the Marine Stadium competition, Wednesday, July 6.

The Long Beach Speedboat Races were originally scheduled for August 6-7.

The Long Beach Office of Special Events denied Wallach’s initial permit application on April 11, citing safety concerns, and the city council sent its appeal to a hearing officer on May 24.

“The appeal hearing is July 19 and from there the hearing officer has 15 days to issue a decision,” Wallach said in an email Wednesday. “Once that decision is made, it comes back to the city council for approval or rejection of the decision.

“In other words, the city put this in place to make sure the Long Beach Sprint Nationals wouldn’t happen this year,” he added, “because I don’t expect to a verdict before the last possible moment.”

Long Beach officials, in a statement, did not directly respond to Wallach’s accusation, but reiterated concerns for the safety of fans and competitors.

“As the city discovered during its extensive post-crash review, this event poses significant safety concerns,” city spokesman Kevin Lee said in a statement released Wednesday. “As a result of the safety review, the City denied the permit to protect both spectators and participants.”

The special events office had yet to receive an official cancellation, Lee said.

The Sprint Nationals were first held at Marine Stadium in 1946.

Several classes of speedboats, some capable of speeds of up to 150mph, decide national championships in two days of oval racing at Long Beach Stadium, which was built for Olympics rowing events of 1932.

But there have been two driver deaths at national sprint championships since 2018.

In 2018, Gregory Paul Duff died a week and a half after being hit by a racing boat.

In 2019, the city initially denied a permit for the races. But after Wallach and SCSC, which is based in Redondo Beach, agreed to a number of safety upgrades and increased liability insurance from $1 million to $10 million, races were allowed to have venue.

In 2020, with the pandemic canceling most events, races were held in Bakersfield and Parker, Arizona.

Racing returned to Long Beach last year.

The 2021 competition saw pilot Jay Hart die when he was ejected from his open-cockpit speedboat during a race in Long Beach on August 8.

Wallach was pushed back when he submitted his plan for the 2022 races, which he said included more safety improvements.

In a memo dated April 11 to City Manager Tom Modica, Special Events Manager Tasha Day and Deputy Fire Chief Robbie Grego, the event was too dangerous as currently set up to allow it. A letter dated the same day and signed by Modica to Ross Wallach summarizes the note:

“Based on the above information and your current request submitted to the Office of Special Events and Filming on August 25, 2021,” the memo states, “the investigation team has concluded that the Sprint Nationals Boat Racing event is unsafe and poses a hazard to both race participants and spectators in its current configuration and specified safety requirements.

Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said in May that it was important that the appeals process be fair to both the SCSC and the city’s safety concerns.

“I had the opportunity to meet the callers,” Price said at a May board meeting. “We had no substantive conversations, but (I) assured them and promised and committed to them that they would have a fair process.”

But delays in holding the hearing in the first place have rendered the matter all but moot, at least for this year, Wallach said. And if the decision doesn’t go his way, he added, it could be the end of the National Sprint Championships in Long Beach.

“I have to wait to put it back on the schedule for the next city council hearing – maybe in August but most likely in September,” Wallach said. “We have therefore been forced to cancel the race for this year. If we win the appeal and the city council approves the decision, we will be back in 2023 but, if I am honest, I have little hope in this process.