This past weekend in Tavares, FL. at the Hydrocross Tour season opener, we were the first US watercraft race series to have more than five runabouts on the line in the Rec Lites class; four Sea-Doo Sparks and an older Sea-Doo XP.
For those who are unfamiliar with watercraft or PWC Racing, the Rec Lites Class was put into the racing lineup to accommodate the entry-level racer and Sea-Doo’s new entry-level watercraft the Sea-Doo Spark.
When word came down pre-season from the IJSBA that the Rec Lites class was being added to the roster for 2014, we at the Hydrocross Tour immediately jumped at the chance to offer the class for the new Spark. The hope is to “spark” interest among both people thinking about getting into the watercraft world, and new owners of this little runabout to come race. This past weekend we had the largest turnout of Sparks on a starting line in the US to date! There were four racers on Sparks and one on a 720cc XP, making a total of five, and the first time Sea-Doo/BRP will be cutting a check to the winner through their racer support program the Sea-Doo X-Team Bounty.
Since there is some controversy swirling around about the Spark’s durability in extreme conditions, and it’s viability as a race boat, we decided it was about time to give some first hand opinions from the folks that have been truly “beating the snot” out of their Sparks! These are the owners, the racers, the recreational riders that ride like it’s their job. They ride ’em like they stole ’em and showed up on the starting line waiting for the band to snap in Tavares, FL. this past weekend.
- Kevin and Corrie Wassum
- Sea-Doo Spark, Bubble Gum
- 36 hours (most hour out of the group)
- 2 up Spark base model, flashed with the 100 HP V-Tech tune and sponsons
Kevin and Corrie ride their Spark A LOT in Recreational riding conditions around the Tampa Bay area and mostly in salt water. The conditions in Tampa/St. Pete can range from flat and calm, to 3-5+ foot chop that resembles something like being in a washing machine… all on the same day!
Kevin, The Ultimate Sea-Doo Fan, founder of the Tampa Sea-Doo Crew and most recently the newest poster boy for Sea-Doo, recently rode their Spark from Haulover Beach, FL. to Bimini Bahamas and back. This is the first ever long ocean trip on a Sea-Doo Spark. Amazingly the one way trip to Bimini (50+ miles) was completed on one tank of fuel with some left to spare!
Even though Kevin, a PWC Muscle sponsored racer, was a rookie on the racing scene in 2013, he has already made his mark. He won the 2013 Aqua X 300 Class Championship and has had success in Closed Course racing on the Hydrocross Tour and at the National level. He competed aboard their Spark for the first time in the 2014 Hydrocross Tour race in Tavares, FL. on May 31st.
We caught up with Kevin this week after Tavares and asked him what he thought about his first Spark race. “When I first rode the Sea-Doo Spark, I did not anticipate racing it. When my wife purchased her Bubble Gum pink Spark this past December, I still never anticipated racing on it myself. None the less, at round one of the 2014 Pro Hydro X tour, I found myself leaning over the handle bars and looking across Florida’s first Sea-Doo bounty eligible Spark race lineup and waiting for the band to snap. This first round of Spark racing held a bit of a learning curve as we were all still in the test phase in regards to what equipment would be necessary to be competitive in the new Rec Lite class. Fortunately, as it turns out, you don’t need much. Off the line all of the Sparks that were raced in Tavares seemed very similar in speed, regardless of which tune the boats were running. It would not be a stretch to say that for about $6000 MSRP, you can have a competitive boat to race in this new class. A baseline Spark, a new set of sponsons, and a racing tune from VTech are really all you need at this point. The rest of the emphasis is on the rider and the ability to make smart decisions while navigating the course. During my two races, it quickly became apparent that rider fatigue and watercraft speed would not be as much of a factor as it is in the larger runabout classes. Therefore, it’s more difficult to make up time on the track and each rider mistake seems much more costly. Miss a buoy or take a turn too wide at any point during the race and you’re going to have a much more difficult time getting back to the front than you would in the other runabout classes.”
- Don and Susan Anderson
- Sea-Doo Spark, Licorice
- 12 hours
- “Stealth” is a 2 up Spark with a tune, sponsons, and some minor “secret stock class mods” done by experienced wrench/racer Don Anderson
Don and Susan Anderson have been long time fixtures in the watercraft racing community and are some of the original members of BMS/Team Mean out of Markham Park in Sunrise, FL. In recent years Don has not been racing and has taken the role of tuner/wrench/pit crew for his beloved wife Susan Anderson. Susan races her Sea-Doo HX in the Sport Spec class Nationally and on the Hydrocross Tour.
We don’t think this is a question anyone has asked. “What would it take to bring Don Anderson back to the starting line to school the new guys after a decade?” Well, he showed up at the Hydrocross race in Tavares, FL. last weekend racing their Sea-Doo Spark Stealth. His first time back racing, and the first time their Spark has been on the starting line, and Don pretty much schooled everyone winning the Rec Lites Class!
After the Hydrocross Awards Ceremony on Sunday Don told us with a grin on his face, “I am going to call Tim (Tim McKercher of Sea-Doo Competition Management) Monday morning and let him know he owes me money!” Don and Tim go back a ways and Don will be the first racer in the US to collect the Sea-Doo X-Team Bounty for winning the Rec Lites class on a Sea-Doo Spark!
Here is Don talking about the Spark. “All I can say about the Spark is awesome. No problems, it got me back on the race course, and even the podium after 10 years of not racing. It’s fun to do what we originally intended; ride and race rather than wrench all weekend. It is Incredibly stable in the turns, and has enough power to pull out of turns and it doesn’t nose hunt.”
Jeremy Schandelmayer #696, Pro Runabout Closed Course, Aqua X 300 and Pro Ski racer got the opportunity to race Stealth in a moto on Sunday at the Hydrocross race. We talked to him to find out what he thought of his first experience on the race course aboard a Spark. “I had a great time running in the Spark Class this past weekend. It’s a great entry-level class as well as a great test of skill since the boats are so evenly matched. I’m looking forward to getting back out there with more on the line!”
- Preston and Brad Clark
- Sea-Doo Spark, Orange Crush
- 19 hours
- “Orange Crush” is a 2 up 60 HP Spark with a 110 ECU flash by V-Tech, Worx sponsons and some other minor adjustments
Preston and Brad’s Spark has seen recreational riding in salt water around the Tampa Bay area in similar conditions as Kevin and Corrie’s Bubble Gum Spark. It has also been to many race practice sessions on Lake Seminole and in the St. Pete practice spot near the Skyway Bridge. Orange Crush is no stranger to taking a beating in big chop and in the wakes and pump wash of its big runabout cousins on the buoy course.
Preston and Brad both piloted the #81 Spark off the line at the Hydrocross Tour race in Tavares, FL., for the first time racing in the Junior Rec Lites and Rec Lites Classes respectively.
Brad commented saying “the spark brings a whole new level of fun to racing. Kinda like when you get your buddies together at the go-cart track.”
Preston Clark, Brad’s son raced Orange Crush for the first time in the Junior Rec Lites Class on both Saturday and Sunday. It was the first time a junior rider has raced a Spark in competition. He had this to say about his first race of 2014, “the spark is a blast to race! It’s nice to be on something new that dad does not have to work on after every moto.”
Cody “The Deuce” McCallum #2 is a Pro Ski rider sponsored by Trinity Composites, McCallum Towing and Central Georgia Powersports, and races both Nationally and on the Hydrocross Tour. Cody, his father, Broc Harris and David Bassett show up at almost every race across the United States. He raced Preston and Brad’s Spark on Sunday June 1st in Tavares, FL. It was both Cody’s first time on a Sea-Doo Spark, and his first time racing a Spark.
Cody commented, “I enjoyed riding and racing the spark; it had great power and good control. It felt like riding a big ski with the power and size of a smaller ski, kind of like a Blaster or X2. I would tell anyone who hasn’t rode one before, they need to either try one out or buy one! They are too much fun! The Spark would be the perfect ski for going out to the lake or having fun in the surf. You can just throw it around cause of its size. You can’t do that on a full size ski. Riding last weekend for sure made me think about getting one of my own for either racing or just for fun.”
- Trisha King and Brent Venderley
- Sea-Doo Spark, Vanilla
- 29 hours
- Affectionately know as “Storm Trooper,” this is a showroom stock 3 up HO, we take the 3 up hull extension off depending on the riding conditions
The second most used Spark on our list, Trish and Brent ride their Spark recreationally in salt water around the Clearwater/St Pete area, as freestyle boat in Daytona’s surf, as a practice boat in the usual rough/choppy conditions locally, around the buoy courses at Lake Seminole and the Skyway Bridge and now… racing! Brent and Storm Trooper are in the video above “Sea-Doo Spark Freestyle, First Ever 180 Nose Stabs and Supermans, 2014 Daytona Freeride” from the Daytona Freeride event in January 2014. Between practicing for the Daytona Freeride, the event itself and other surf rides, This Spark has been upside down in salt water on a handful of occasions. You could say it this Spark has been used and tested in some of the most extreme situations.
When we asked Trish to tell us about her Spark she commented saying “My boyfriend Brent drug me into the watercraft world. It had never been my thing until we bought my Spark (aka Storm Trooper) last fall. Now he never has to talk me into going out on the water while they are practicing. I love it, it is so easy and so much fun to ride! It has even “sparked” my interest in racing a little.”
Clay “Claya the Playa” Barbee #84 races closed course at the National level, on the Hydrocross Tour and drag races at the Hydrodrags Watercraft Racing Series aboard his naturally aspirated Yamaha VXR and his Sea-Doo RXP-X 260. Claya has a long history racing watercraft starting with many wins from the 90s. After a long hiatus from the sport, in 2012 he came back to win some more! Clay has ridden Trish’s Spark at Lake Seminole during one of the local practice sessions, but this was his first time racing a Spark. Somehow it worked out that Storm Trooper was sitting beached on the Tavares shore Saturday, so Clay took the opportunity and registered to compete in the Rec Lites Class at the Hydrocross race.
Clay gave us his impression of his first Spark race. “My first time racing the spark was this last weekend, and I got on the pole position next to Don Anderson! I thought to myself, Okay this is going to be fun! I was at a little disadvantage since Trish’s is bone stock and Brad, Kevin and Don have a few mods, but I had a great time out there. The race was some of the most fun first experiences I’ve had racing skis.”
Once again on Sunday Trish’s Spark was looking lonely beached next to the Tavares boat ramp. Yamaha’s Pro Runabout Rider Troy Synder brought his son Tory Snyder out to race with him to Sunday’s round. Tory raced last season against Preston Clark in the Junior Runabout Class on the Hydrocross Tour and got his first ever win in Islamorada, FL. during our season championships. After some discussions debating whether to run his Sea-Doo XP or Storm Trooper, Tory decided to give the Spark a shot. Tory said he thought it was a little slow, but he liked the seat and how the ergonomics felt.
What the Riders and Tim McKercher of Sea-Doo Competition Management are Saying…
It’s obvious we here are Spark enthusiast, and honestly we haven’t heard from anyone that is not after riding one!
The issues this group has seen with regards to the Spark are par for the course and in line with the normal issues rider’s have when they beats knots on their watercraft. These issues are far outweighed by the fact that for about $6,000.00 MSRP (less than the cost of a new motocross bike) you have a Spark that is reliable and competitive on the race course and/or fun for the entire family rippin’ around your local waterway.
As a group, these Sparks are 2-3x past the normal break-in period. These Sparks are mostly salt water ridden, have been upside down on the beach in salty sand, pinned full throttle since hour one, on long ocean rides that some of the most experienced riders have not attempted, and ridden with the experienced aggressiveness that this group unleashes every time they pull a throttle! These Sparks are tested and proven with little or no complaints. They are reliable, and viable in a racing environment.
As a group…
- There have been no major mechanical issues with any of these Sparks to date.
- The steering stems on a couple of them are a little loose. Most of the riders are waiting for an aftermarket stem so they can fit their Spark with race bars.
- Only one of them has a small crack in the plastic. The crack is from Brent head-butting the top piece of the Exoskel in front of the bars with his helmet after coming off while doing a superman.
- A couple of the plastic pieces (mainly the small storage lid) is fading a little faster than expected.
- It is hard to get your favorite sponsors stickers to stick to the Spark’s plastic for very long, so have several sets in waiting.
- Three of Four of the Sparks are running race tunes, still on pump gas with absolutely no issues.
- One person can remove the top deck for maintenance with little or no problems.
- Even after being upside down in the water, more than once, the inside of the hull stays DRY and CLEAN! What this means for these riders is, after a long day in the salt water you spray the outside with the hose to wash the salt off, flush the motor and put it in the garage; about 10 minutes tops!
- They just run… whether you are riding around dolphin watching or at full throttle the entire time.
- The Spark is lite weight: it is nimble in the water with any rider on it, a blast in the surf jumping waves, two people can pick it up off the beach and put it on a trailer, or with a couple more people you can slide it in the bed of a pickup truck!
- It’s about $20.00 to fill up the tank with 93 octane… and you can ride it hard all day!
These are the echoes of the words coming from the mouths of experienced and professional riders after riding their Sparks in some of the most challenging conditions anyone could put their watercraft through. If sales are evidence of the enthusiasm, then we may have a revolution at hand in the watercraft industry! Sea-Doo/BRP may be facing “a victim of their own success” situation as they try to keep up with the demand for their comparatively inexpensive base model Sparks. Could we ask for anything more?
From Tim McKercher…
“BRP is excited to see the Sea-Doo Spark making its way to starting lines at various races including the Pro Hydrocross Tour, said Tim McKercher of Sea-Doo Competition Management. “The Sea-Doo Spark is not only the most affordable way for people to make their watersports and boating dreams come true, but it offers the most affordable manner to be involved with watercraft racing. The Spark provides people with the competitive spirt, and an affordable and fun avenue to competing.”
“The barrier to entry is much lower with the Spark and we see this product being in a position to truly re-spark the sport and be the vehicle that the next generation of watercraft racers ride. If the sales success of the Sea-Doo Spark is any indication of what we will be seeing on the waterways around the world, then we can expect a good number of these owners trying their hand at racing… and the entire industry should be excited about that!”