Power boat racing has been a part of the Luce family for nearly half a century and all George and James want to do is keep their tradition alive.
George Luce, 47, a contractor and carpenter with Lettieri Construction has been racing outboards for 25 years while his son, James Luce, 17, going into his senior year at Westhampton Beach High School, has been racing for seven years. George’s father, George Sr., started the tradition in the late 1950s, dabbling in the sport while George was only about 3 years old. George decided to stick with the sport for good when he was about 20 years old and ever since then it’s been a running tradition.
East Quogue residents George Luce and his son, James, have won a total of 14 national titles, 10 belonging to George and four belonging to James. The two just added to their collection recently when James won the American Power Boat Association Outboard Nationals in Grass Lake, Michigan, July 27 to August 1. George won the Modified Outboard Nationals in Zanesville, Ohio, on Dillon Lake July 15 to July 19.
James’s win is a little more impressive, according to George, because he had to beat out 34 competitors in an a-stock hyrdoplane race meaning there were drivers of all skill levels competing. It was also one of the first major races James has competed in at the a-stock level. Previously, James had been racing in the intermediate level, which includes racers from the age of 13 to about 20 years old. Before the intermediate level, James was in the junior circuit, which has racers up to 16 years old. James had won nationals at both the junior and intermediate circuits and George thought it would be a good time for him to move up another level. After the a-class, there are b-, c- and d-classes with the boats gaining speed in each class because bigger motors are used.
“It was amazing,” George said of his son’s win. “I didn’t expect him to do that. It was his first nationals against veterans. In the a-stock class, there are people in their first year to people who have been in there for 35 years. It’s always tough to win that, but it was his year.”
George explained that the toughest competition is in stock outboard racing because everyone is so closely matched in skill level. James said he was nervous about the race but was happy he pulled through with the victory.
“It was pretty tough because they have so much more experience,” he said of his competitors. “At the intermediate level, there are two or three boats who are just as fast as you. In a-stock everyone is just as fast.”
There were a couple of different ways James could have qualified for nationals. One way was winning the nationals the previous year or if he won divisionals this year. Since he didn’t win nationals last year or even attend divisionals this year, James had to fight for one of the eight open slots in the two prequalifying heats before the actual racing started at nationals this year. To qualify, a racer had to be first, second, or have the fastest third-place time. James won both of his qualifying heats.
James also won both of his heats in the actual race, totaling 800 points, but it wasn’t entirely easy for the youngster. There was a heat where James was trailing the leader but because of a crash, the red flag came out and stalled racing for a while. When the race started back up, James got a great start, which is one of the biggest keys to winning a race according to both George and James, and he was able to come from behind and win the heat.
“He probably would have finished second in that heat hadn’t it stopped,” George said. “He was good, but there is a little bit of luck involved.”
There is no prize money involved in any of the races through APBA, rather it’s more for fun and bragging rights. For winning nationals, James will now have the honor of having the U.S. number one on his boat for the next year until the next national champion is crowned.
Being that it was his 10th national championship, George was more excited and focused on his son’s victory. George races in the d-modified class, many levels above his son. There are three different classes; stock, modified and pro. George has always been into the modifieds and doesn’t plan on changing.
“You start out with a stock fishing motor and you can get creative with it,” he explained. “You can do modifications on the motor within the guidelines of the rules. I think competition within stocks are very good. Pro is real expensive, they use exotic motors from Europe. Modifieds are fun.”
In order to practice, George must travel three hours upstate, which he only does about once a year, because his motor is too loud to use in the local area. Most of his practice is during the testing days prior to a national race. James, on the other hand, is able to practice on small lakes here on Long Island and gets to practice more since his motor is not nearly as loud.
The Luces compete in eight to 10 races per year starting around March, and if winter nationals are on the east coast, they’ll stop in late October. The furthest they have gone to race is Washington state where stock outboard nationals took place on Moses Lake two years ago. Once a year they will usually travel to a race on the west coast. Next year, stock outboard nationals is in California and the Luces are hoping to attend.
George really likes the tradition of outboard racing here on the island but he says the traveling is part of the fun.
“Some people just stay on a local level,” he said, “but we like to get out on the road, it’s a lot fun.”