Steve David spent Thursday afternoon kayaking in the Pacific Ocean with his wife Sabrina.
And starting today, he’ll step into the cockpit of the 1 Oh Boy! Oberto for one final weekend of unlimited hydroplane racing — competing at the San Diego Bayfair.
Come Monday morning, though, David becomes a retired unlimited hydroplane driver.
David had been thinking about retiring for a while.
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“I’ll turn 60 in January,” he told the Herald on Thursday night. “I couldn’t go on forever.”
He said he felt his reaction time was starting to slow.
“I was starting to lose split-second reaction time,” he said. “That could be the difference of hitting the starting line on time or being back a couple hundred feet. I’m thinking I getting there (to that point). This way, I give the team nine months to find a driver, rather than doing so in the middle of next season.”
The team will begin a search for a new driver after the season, but it did sign Scott Liddycoat — a former rookie of the year driver — as a crew member last offseason.
If David had any doubt about retiring, his loss at the Detroit Gold Cup in July clinched it for him, he said.
In the Detroit final, David had the lead and was on his way to victory, but was penalized by race officials in a controversial call of cutting off rival Jimmy Shane in the 5 Graham Trucking.
David never won the Gold Cup, but he had finished second 12 times.
David has always been popular driver, and there was a backlash from fans about the call.
He told the Herald off the record 10 days after Detroit that he was done driving after this season.
“Detroit certainly helped move (the idea of retiring) to the front burner,” he said.
Before this weekend’s season finale in San Diego, David has compiled 18 career victories, six driver’s championships, and four national championships.
The majority of his success happened later in his unlimited driving career, when he was with the Oberto team.
“I was so lucky.” he said. “From 1988 to 2001, I was in a lot of backmarker boats.”
He admits getting good equipment helped.
“There are some good drivers in the sport, that given good equipment, could be frontrunners. Like Greg Hopp,” said David. “What it taught me back in 1988, back in the Tri-Cities, was I’d get lapped in the boat I was driving. But people would come up to me and ask what I’d do tomorrow. I’d tell them we were gonna win. You learn humility early on.”
Things really took off for David when the Oberto/Miss Madison team built a new boat in 2007.
Soonafter came five drivers titles and four national championships.
And there is a chance for one more this weekend.
David and Oberto hold a 43-point lead in the high points standings over Shane and Graham — the closest the race has ever been going into the final race of the season.
“I can’t screw up,” David said.
His fans never thought he has. No matter what has happened on the water, David has always been a great ambassador for the sport, giving as much time as he can to the fans.
“If you can brighten (a fan’s) day even for 2 minutes, if they’re in the middle of a crapstorm that just brightens their day, and they may want to come back next year to the races again,” he said. “I was just blessed to be in this position.”
David said team manager Charlie Grooms told the rest of the Oberto team of David’s plan Thursday.
But regardless of what happens the rest of this weekend, David is ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.
That includes building his real estate holding company, Florida Professional Family of Companies, currently one of the 100 largest independent real estate holdings in the USA.
“I’m growing that, spending more time dedicated to it,” he said. “My eneregy will be put more into that. Sabrina and I can put those 40 days of boat racing into something else.”
He plans on stepping away from being at any H1 Unlimited race site in 2014, but he’ll follow it from afar.
Still, he said it won’t be the racing he misses most.
“I tell Sabrina that it’ll be the people I miss the most,” he said. “People I’ve known for years at the different race sites. I can always go 200 mph in my pleasure boat. But the best memories are the people.”