Long Beach officials denied a special event permit for the 2022 National Sprint Championship races scheduled for August at Marine Stadium.
At last year’s races, pilot Jay Hart died when he was ejected from his open-cockpit speedboat during a race on August 8. It was the second death in the last three national sprint championships; Gregory Paul Duff died two weeks after being hit by a boat during the 2018 race.
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. A letter dated the same day and signed by Modica to Ross Wallach, president of the Southern California Speedboat Club, summarizes the memo.
“Based on the above information and your current request submitted to the Office of Special Events and Filming on August 25, 2021, the investigation team has concluded that the Sprint Nationals Boat Racing event is unsafe and unsafe. for race participants and spectators in its current configuration and specified safety requirements,” the memo reads.
The Sprint Nationals have been held at Marine Stadium since 1946, with several years of retirement over time. Several classes of speedboats, some capable of speeds of up to 150 mph, race an oblong course around pylons in the stadium, sometimes for national titles.
After Duff’s death in 2018, the city first denied the 2019 permit and then agreed to a number of security upgrades. But it wasn’t until two weeks before the scheduled event that Wallach and the SCSC secured a $10 million liability policy — up from $1 million the previous year — to meet the city’s demands and secure the event permit.
At that time, Wallach said the city had for months refused to meet with him. The same thing happened this year, he said on Tuesday.
“The city is back for eight months,” Wallach said. “And the reasons why they say they refuse the permit are all wrong. If they could just sit with me, I could correct them.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he added. “I asked and asked and asked them to meet, and I didn’t have a meeting.”
City spokeswoman Jennifer de Perez said she was researching Wallach’s claim. In the meantime, it’s up to him to appeal the decision and come up with a new plan, she said.
“If the event organizer appeals this decision and presents an alternative plan proposal for the city to consider, there is a possibility that the event could be held again,” de Perez said in a statement. “However, the City can only speak to what is subject to our review and cannot speculate on whether any hypothetical alternative proposed plan would or would not be accepted by the City.”
During the 2021 death, a wake appeared to push one of the racing boats into Hart’s boat, which rolled over, throwing Hart off. Both boats were traveling at approximately 110 miles per hour. The letter from the city said that if the boat had not capsized, it would have continued into the crowd of spectators.
Wallach said that claim was false – the accident capsized the boat and he died in the water. Additionally, barriers to prevent a boat from entering the stands had been added after the 2018 death.
“We had two racing incidents on the water,” Wallach said. “We had two deaths in three events. But for the past 25 years, we haven’t had one. Not one.
“The deaths are a tragedy, but the drivers know that racing is inherently dangerous,” he added. “In both cases, runners were killed. We’ve been here since 1946, and there’s never been a spectator hurt, never a lawsuit filed. Never.”
Wallach said his association has already passed rules to slow boats and increase driver safety. For example, any boat capable of going faster than 105 mph must now have an enclosed cockpit – the two pilots who died were in open cockpit boats. The number of boats allowed in a round will be reduced from six to four. He also said he was ready to talk about other changes in the site’s configuration.
“I guess I’ll sit down with the attorney, and we’ll mount a defense and an appeal,” Wallach said. “We just want them to be fair and set the record straight.
“The frustration is at its peak right now,” he added.