A maiden voyage on Lake Lanier followed by a breakdown usually would equal a bad day for most boaters. But for North Carolina native Dee Early, it led to a life-changing opportunity.
In 2000, Early had just moved to Buford when he decided to purchase a boat and explore the waterways of Hall and Gwinnett County. During his first trip, the small speedboat broke down in the middle of a cove. Luckily, someone came along to give him a tow.
“It turned out the guy (who) gave me a tow was an offshore boat racer, Bob Mazikowski,” Early said.
The two men discussed Early’s experience on the water, and Mazikowski soon offered Early the chance to go on a test run in his powerboat.
Early, who is the harbormaster at Lake Lanier Islands, immediately fell in love with the adrenaline rush that came from racing through waves and other rough water at 80 miles an hour.
“It’s like my drug,” he said. “It’s so intense and it’s the ultimate rush.”
Then Mazikowski made Early an offer he could not refuse — a position as test driver on his boat’s crew. Early, 55, eagerly accepted and became part of the offshore boat racing world.
The boat’s owner was the driver, while Mazikowski controlled the throttles. However, early in the racing season, the owner decided to forgo his position and let Early sit in the driver’s seat for the rest of the season.
After two years on Mazikowski’s team, Early wanted to run a team of his own. Now the Buford resident is driver and owner of the P4-33 Crazy Chicken Offshore Racing superboat.
“Bob (Mazikowski) has been a real mentor to me,” Early said last week. “He got me started and taught me everything I know, especially how to drive in rough water.”
Powered by two men, the superboats usually race in the ocean except for a singe contest on a lake in Michigan City, Ind. Waves range from 5 to 6 feet high as the boats cut through the water at 80 mph in Crazy Chicken’s class, which is the manufacturer No. 4. This leads to some rough racing, occasionally dumping the two men into the ocean or lake.
“We spend just as much time out of the water as we do in the water,” Early said. “It’s all I can do to hold on to the steering wheel.”
As the owner, Early drives the 29-foot Shotgun Extreme V-bottom boat to races before slipping behind the wheel. Anthony Silveira, 47, controls the throttles on the Crazy Chicken and acts as mechanic. He builds and rebuilds the 600-horsepower engine at his company, Chesapeake Marine Services Inc., in Middle River, Md., where he lives.
When the boat is not being repaired or racing, it resides on Lake Lanier.
“It’s here most of the year,” Early said. “We send it to Maryland to have the engine worked on, but we take it to races and then the Maryland crew usually flies in.”
Crazy Chicken Racing is now a record-breaking five-time world champion in Superboat International. The team will race for its sixth world championship in Key West, Fla., in November.
“Anyone who has ever won a world championship is always invited back to worlds,” Early said. “There are usually 55 to 60 boats racing in different classes.”
The boats compete in three races at the world championship, and the organizers take the best run from each boat to determine the winner. Early said these races, like the rest, are extremely close in time and distance.
“In the turns, you will only be a couple feet away from the boat next to you,” Early said. “The race course is like a paperclip. So the turns are tight, and you usually don’t win by much.
In 2013, the team won worlds with a 17-second lead. In 2014, they missed part of the season, which runs from May to November and has six to eight races. But the team still returned victorious.
“Last year was a real close one, but we snuck another one out,” Silveira said. “Part of the way through the season we blew a motor and had to take it back to Maryland to rebuild it. So we missed two races, but we still had enough points to qualify for worlds.”
In 2015, boat maintenance and a need for a sponsor will keep the team from competing in all of the races. However, they plan to compete July 31 through Aug. 2 in Michigan City.
“I’m working on the boat in Maryland right now,” Silveira said. “It will be back this season, and we will compete for another world championship.”