Brian Baldwin has made a good living out of repairing and modifying personal watercraft, and he’s also done well racing them.
The Denver resident added another award to his trophy case earlier this month, winning the pro-am runabout stock division title at the International Jet Ski Boating Association World Finals, held Oct. 2-11 in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
It was the third world championship in the past five years for Baldwin, owner of Champion Powersports in Denver. He won the IJSBA pro runabout 800 division championship in 2010 and 2011.
“It’s actually the same class,” Baldwin said. “They now allow experts (high-level amateur racers) to race in that class with the pros.
“But this one definitely feels a lot better to me. This is the premiere class as far as the manufacturers go, because this is basically what you can go buy at a dealership and spend a little bit of money on and race.”
In fact, Baldwin did the modifications on the Yamaha FX-SVHOs that he and three other Yamaha Racing teammates raced in the IJSBA World Finals.
“And I built the skis four days before the race in Arizona,” Baldwin said. “They were brand-new 2016 models that had just come out from Yamaha, and we were able to get them out there.”
According to Baldwin, among the modifications allowed by the IJSBA in the runabout stock class were changes to the waterjet impeller system, and some changes to the engine. The engine tuning was performed by Dean Charrier, who owns the Yamaha-backed Dean’s Racing team.
“We put a standalone (engine control) computer, a fully-programmable one, in place of the factory computer,” Baldwin said. “We also made some handling and steering modifications, and we were allowed to change the valve spring retainers to titanium retainers. That thing would go 85 mph.”
All four of the Baldwin-built and Charrier-tuned personal watercraft did well at the IJSBA World Finals – in addition to Baldwin’s world title, Peru’s Paloma Noceda won the women’s runabout championship, and Indonesia’s Aero and Aqsa Aswar finished third and seventh, respectively, in the pro-am runabout stock division.
“Yeah, we did pretty well,” Baldwin said. “Aqsa had an electrical issue in the second heat race, but he won the first race.”
Baldwin’s introduction to jet ski racing came as a youth.
“I was 8 years old, and my parents bought me a jet-ski racing video for Christmas,” Baldwin said. “It was the 1987 World Finals, and when I saw that video, I was like ‘Man, that’s awesome.’ That became my dream, that became what I wanted to do.”
But it wasn’t until 1999 that Baldwin – at the prompting of long-time friend Ray Broome, who now lives in Belmont – made the move from just riding PWCs to racing them.
“We used to ride every day, and I was always doing tricks on my standup,” Baldwin said. “He was like, ‘Man, you have got to go to Florida and race Jet Skis.’ He talked me into it. So we moved to St. Augustine, Fla., in the fall of 1998, I got a job in a Kawasaki-Yamaha dealership working on skis, and that was it.
“Some spring, a local race promoter mailed out a flyer about a race that was being held in Daytona Beach. I went, and won the very first race I ever raced in. I was hooked, and I mean hooked.”
Baldwin wound up winning two of three races in the beginner’s class that season, and won the division title – the first of many regional, national and now world championships he has won over the past 16 years.
Baldwin relocated to Denver in 2006 and opened Champion Powersports – named such because of all the racing titles he’s won – in 2007.
In addition to building and modifying personal watercraft for some of the world’s top racers, Baldwin is also grooming the next generation to take over.
“It’s a marketing tool for the shop,” Baldwin said. “I hope to be doing this another five or 10 years. I’ve got a 6-year-old son, Kayden, and I’m hoping he gets involved, and an 11-year-old nephew (Osric Pryor) that’s won the national championship the past two years.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.