Norm Woods’ passion for boat racing started as a very young boy, when his father first took him to watch the races at the CNE in Toronto. Summers at the family cottage in Muskoka, Ont. were spent building small hydroplanes and ‘racing’ in the bay. In 1980, after years of attending races as a spectator, Norm became pit crew and part owner on a race team. In 1982 Norm was ready to run his own race team and fulfill his desire to ‘sit in the driver’s seat’. He purchased a Beismeyer flat bottom runabout, naming it ‘Gambler’. After many serious discussions with his wife, sue, it was greed that if he didn’t have the necessary skill or confidence to race the boat himself, they would hire a driver. Much to his delight, Norm, racing in the Can AM class, proved himself early in his rookie season and never looked back.
Norm was Quebec High Point Champion 5 years running, from 1987 to 1991. Gambler Racing took the Canadian High Points Championship and the Gold Medal at the World Championship in 1988. It was after the gold medal win that Norm was approached by Ray Brown, a well respected boat builder from Lake Havasu, Ariz. Brown was interested in building a new hull design and felt confident that Norm had the ability to drive it. While the new boat was in production, Norm continued his success, breaking 2 speed records in 1989, one in Valleyfield, Quebec and the other in Essex, Md. where he was awarded the Governor’s Cup.
In 1990, Gambler Racing welcomed its newest addition – Gambler 2. A narrow hulled Beizer, powered by a fuel injected 500 c.i. Chevy big block, run on methanol. The winning continued, with Norm capturing the North American Championship in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, and the High Points Championship in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. Further accomplishments also included the silver medal win at the 1992 World’s in Valleyfield, a new speed record in Ville Marie, Que. in 1992 and in a Chambly, Que. event, which saw the top 7 litre hydroplane take on the number one Can Am flat bottom in a crowd pleasing all out ‘grudge match’. After 3 laps of head to head racing the dust settled and the Mayor’s Cup was awarded to Norm and the Gambler.
It became obvious to Norm early in his career that the success of any sport depended just as much on what went on behind the scenes, as at the race track itself and consequently he took on the role of president of the Can Am Sprint Boat Association, a position he held for 8 years. He also sat on the CBF racing commission as VP for Inboard Racing from 1991-1994. In 1993, Norm brought powerboat racing back to Muskoka, Ont. by resurrecting a local race site and serving as promoter, organizer and also competing in the Muskoka Power Sport Regatta for 2 years. His efforts there awarded him the Norman B. Courtney Memorial award. It was at that time that Norm played a significant role in securing new liability insurance for CBF with CG&B Insurance Brokers and K & K Insurance.
At the end of the 1994 season, Norm retired the Gambler 2 and was hired to drive for a U.S. team in the KRR Unlimited Class. Over the next 4 years while still achieving several podium
finishes, Norm considered his major success to be the area of safety. Due to the increased speed of these supercharged engines and after witnessing several good friends injured in crashes, Norm insisted on sitting inside a reinforced racing capsule. The K-boat was fitted with a Kevlar an carbon fiber capsule equipped with an air supply and in 1996 it proved it’s worth. Travelling at 130 miles per hour the boat caught a wave at the start of a race in Hampton, Va. and instantly barrel rolled, then flipped end over end. The capsule, with Norm strapped inside, sank amid a sea of debris. After being freed by the rescue crew and receiving medical care, it was determined that Norm’s injuries were limited to bruising on his knees. The outcome of this accident prompted other owners and drivers to adopt the capsule system, including many in the Canadian flat bottom class.
After his many years of racing, Norm’s most esteemed hour came in 2002 when he was inducted into the Canadian Boating Federation’s Hall of Fame. Having his accomplishments recognized in such a way was one of the greatest highlights of his racing career. Naturally as most racers know, although the sport seems all consuming, in most cases it really is equivalent to a part-time job, albeit a very demanding part-time job. All throughout his racing career, Norm also owned and operated a successful business in Bracebridge, Ont. with his wife, Sue. And, determined to make racing truly a ‘family affair’, together they raised two children, Lindsay and Dennis, who quite literally grew up on the race circuit, loving the travel, excitement and camaraderie that goes hand in hand with his amazing sport of powerboat racing.
Image courtesy of What’s Up Bracebridge