By Ray Lee
Photo by Rob Rich
In a mid-season decision earlier this month, the governing bodies of the Offshore Powerboat Association (OPA) and the American Power Boat Association (APBA) announced to its Super Stock fleet that the use of tunnel tabs would no longer be allowed and banned in offshore competition prior to their upcoming race in St. Clair, Michigan and all other races going forward, citing safety precautions.
“The ‘tunnel tab’ conversation was started last year; it just didn’t happen last year because of the abbreviated season (due to Covid),” said offshore racer and Super Stock class representative Ryan Beckley. “We then took a class vote and the majority of the class voted (against the tabs), and then the APBA Board of Directors made the final decision and passed it immediately.”
“Outboard cats are inherently dangerous with tunnel tabs. I will tell you; boats will crash with tunnel tabs,” Beckley told Speedboat.
A tunnel tab is a large, hinged plate that is affixed to the transom of a catamaran just above the tunnel area between the sponsons with trim cylinders to actuate it downwards or upwards. They are designed to restrict and block off the air that travels through the tunnel, creating more lift of the boat and increasing speeds.
Page 74 of the official 2021 OPA Racing Rule Book under the Super Stock Class specifically cites that: “Tunnel tabs: May extend into the tunnel 40 inches maximum and extend aft from the transom 36 inches maximum. Air dams or fences are allowed. The maximum width of the tunnel tab shall not exceed the width of the tunnel measured at the keel.”
Out of more than a dozen super stock teams participating in the OPA Racing series, only four teams are actively using the tunnel tabs: Team Performance Boat Center/FASS Fuel Systems, Team Allen Lawn Care, Team Wicked and Team Deep Vee Cats.
“I needed to do something to keep up with the state-of-the-art boats and it seemed like the tunnel tab was the answer to that,” explained Billy Allen, owner and throttleman of Team Allen Lawn Care, who had his installed just prior to Lake Race in early June of this year and was relatively new to using them.
“We had it on for Sarasota, but we did not use it. We only used it for the flat-water races because you don’t need it for when it’s like that (in bigger conditions),” said Allen. “It’s a real bummer that they pulled them out in the middle of the season. I spent a lot of money on it, getting them put on.”
Team Performance Boat Center/FASS Fuel Systems driver Myrick Coil, who is currently in the points lead along with his throttleman Rusty Williams and is followed closely by Team CMR Roofing/STR Racing, was a bit more outspoken on his dissatisfaction of the new ruling.
“I can’t believe they’d do it in the middle of the season,” said an exasperated Coil. “If they took away my tunnel tab from me after Key West (at the end of the season), I’d be like ‘OK, we got some testing to do this winter.’ But you change a rule three weeks before the flattest race of the year? And now we’re working to try and make it better? It almost feels like they want to give it to someone else.”
“The people that are making these rule changes need to let the fans know why they are doing it. Like if people ask, ‘have there been a lot of accidents because of (tunnel tabs)?’ If we’ve had two boats spinout because of it and risking people’s lives then, yeah. But since there hasn’t been, let’s talk about it in the off-season. But it’s the only thing that they have a leg to stand on and the one thing that you can’t argue as much, is ‘safety.’”
The St. Clair Classic in Michigan is this weekend, July 30 to Aug. 1, followed by the Great Lakes Grand Prix in Michigan City, Indiana on Aug. 5-8.