Ron Polli has a genuine love of speed and boats. Starting as a volunteer for a New Jersey Offshore Powerboat race, Polli followed his passion, becoming vice president of the New Jersey Offshore Powerboat Racing Association and then director of Water Operations for the Offshore Performance Association. Twenty-seven years later, he's taking powerboat racing nationwide as the president of the Offshore Super Series (OSS) Powerboat Racing Association, and today, he shares the wealth of his experience.
SDM: What is the mission of your organization?
Polli: My mission is twofold. One, to put together a series of eight races a year - one each month from March to October. Two, to provide racers with a level playing field and a safe racecourse. We have to enforce our rules so that no competitor has an advantage over another and to make sure we have the proper medical facilities on-hand and in the air should an accident occur.
My long-term mission is to make racing more affordable. Currently it cost our teams a great deal to compete in our series. By elevating our TV production, we hope it gives our teams the leverage to increase their value to sponsors. At some point, it would be nice to see racers making a profit from racing.
SDM: Nationally, how many participants do you have?
Polli: About 35 five teams race with us throughout the year with anywhere from six to 16 members each.
SDM: How many events are held each year?
Polli: Between six and eight.
SDM: In what regions/locations are they held?
Polli: Mostly in the Southeast, along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. However, we also race in the big inland lakes, such as Havasu, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake of the Ozarks and Lake Cumberland.
SDM: As an organization, what do you look for in a location?
Polli: We like to go to nice resort locations that have an ocean or large lake available. Our racers are a group of well-off business owners. They don't play golf; they don't go fishing. They spend their weekends racing boats and they like to bring their families as often as possible.
SDM:From an event management standpoint, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Polli: Once the permits from the town, Coast Guard (for lakes - the Corps of Engineers) are approved, the challenge is raising the money to pay the bills. It costs about $150,000 to bring our show to town, but the local economic impact averages $3 to 5 million. You would think it's a no-brainer, but the people that lay out the $150K don't get the whole increase in revenue. It's shared between all the businesses in the community. As a result, finding locations and helping to get it funded are the biggest challenges. Thankfully, most of race sites come back each year.
SDM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Polli: The best part is watching the awards ceremony, knowing that we had a successful event and that all of our race teams are going home in one piece to race another day. It just doesn't get better than that.
SDM: Please describe how you feel your knowledge, skills and experience have contributed to the success of the sports events in which you are involved.
Polli: Since I've lived in this sport for 27 years at every level, I can connect with the racers and understand their needs better than most. For OSS, the racers are our primary customers, since they pay the bills and put on the show. OSS races are generally free for the public to watch, so even though 40,000 people come to watch us race, we derive no income from them. But the local businesses and hotels clearly benefit from all of our fans coming to town. That's why it's a win-win when you bring an OSS race to town.