Spencer Sieracki gripped the throttle on his jet ski and waited shoulder to shoulder with a dozen other tense jet skiers. The flag went down, their jets roared, and the racers surged forward toward the first buoy. Sieracki's craft bobbed lifelessly in their wakes and its engine sputtered. The 20-year-old Winonan's jet ski "bogged down" at the start of the jet ski racing national championship in Charleston, West Virginia, last month. When his engine came to life again, Sieracki was well behind most of the other racers, but one by one, he passed them to finish first. Sieracki finished first in three out of three races to soundly take the International Jet Boating Sports Association (IJBSA) championship for pro-am watercross.
. Winonan Spencer Sieracki won the national championship for pro-am jet ski racing last month.
"It was pretty crazy," Sieracki said of pulling into the lead as he neared the finish line. It was not the first national title for the youth, who grew up jet skiing from his father's Latsch Island boathouse. Sieracki has won several amateur titles and garnered the attention and support of Twin Cities jet ski trailer company Jet Lift. A Jet Lift representative accompanied Sieracki to Charleston, and "he was pretty excited when I won," Sieracki said.
The son of Todd Fakler and Tara Sieracki, Spencer Sieracki got his start riding around the Mississippi River with his father. Over time he convinced his dad to let him get "faster and faster skis," Sieracki said.
Now, Sieracki rides a 800cc stand-up jet ski with a top speed of about 55 miles per hour. That is slow compared to professional riders, he explained. Unlike the average jet ski, stand-ups have no seat. The hand pull — the equivalent of the steering column on the jet ski — has a hinge so that it moves up and down with riders as they brace for hard corners or duck low on breezy straightaways.
The moveable steering and lack of a seat make jet ski racing "completely different than any other powersport," Sieracki explained. "It's really, really dependent on your body. You're really in control."
The freedom of movement allows riders to use their body weight to control the craft around tighter corners, but it also demands stamina. Racing a stand-up jet ski is like holding a squat for several minutes. "You're sore for a few days after a race," Sieracki observed. "The whole time you're in really low, hunched-over positions. And you have a helmet and lifejacket, and once everything's wet it actually starts to weigh something."
Waves add another unique element to jet ski racing. "The big thing in jet ski racing is every single lap the track changes because of waves. So a line through a corner might be totally different if there are guys in front of you," Sieracki explained. Jet skis' wakes make passing difficult, as well, since riders encounter turbulence as they close in behind other racers.
It is a dangerous sport, too. "It's easy to fall off and get run over," Sieracki said. The racers in IJBSA's highlight reels seem improbably glued to their jet skis as they punch through rough waves and jockey for position at high speeds. Sieracki usually "makes contact" with other jet skis every race, though direct collisions are rare, he said. His worst incident to date came while practicing at Lake Pepin earlier this year. Sieracki lost control on a corner and his jet ski came out from under him. In the tumbling of water, machine, and man, Sieracki smacked his helmet against the craft and wound up in the hospital with a concussion. Despite the danger, Sieracki's parents are supportive, he said, though his mom was less than happy when he failed to tell her about the Lake Pepin accident till later that evening.
Sieracki is studying business administration at Winona State University. He makes time for jet skiing up and down the Mississippi River several times a week. "Going pro" would be amazing, Sieracki said, but he is not counting on it. "There would be a lot to go into it to make it financially stable," he explained. After all, it's not all up to the rider. Successful racers need a reliable jet ski, a good mechanic, and supportive sponsors. So, for now, jet skiing will remain a pastime for Sieracki, albeit a high-profile one: he will race in the international championship at Lake Havasu, Ariz., this October.