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Nunica man dies racing offshore powerboat

Becky Vargo • Jul 31, 2017 at 7:32 PM

A Nunica man died Sunday at a Port Huron-area hospital following a collision during a powerboat race on the St. Clair River.

Keith Holmes, owner of CK Motorsports in Nunica, was the “throttleman” aboard his 40-foot boat, Cat Can Do, when the accident occurred at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

The driver of Cat Can Do, Jamie Sartin, was also injured in the crash. The Times Herald of Port Huron reported Monday that Sartin was in critical condition at St. John Hospital in Detroit.

A YouTube video shows the Miss GEICO boat making a turn and speeding to catch up with the American Ethanol-sponsored Cat Can Do. Through the spray of water, you can see the bright-green GEICO close in on the Cat Can Do, then the Cat Can Do turns sideways and stops.

Pictures show puncture holes in the port side of the Cat Can Do, including the area where Keith Holmes sat as throttleman on the boat that he owned.

Holmes died as a result of the crash. 

Exactly what happened has not yet been revealed. The Offshore Powerboat Association will conduct an investigation, according to people involved in the racing circuit.

Craig Ellis, a long-time friend of Holmes, said he was just questioning Holmes last week about his intentions for retirement.

“He told me he still had a few good years in him,” said Ellis, who lives in Grand Rapids.

The two were last together at Barrett’s Marina in Spring Lake, where Holmes was testing a boat and Ellis needed a battery.

Ellis said he met Holmes in Grand Haven about 20-25 years ago when Holmes had his boat, Hasta La Vista Baby, participating in an offshore race. They started talking at the dock and eventually started a friendship.

The Hasta La Vista Baby was stunning and traveled at speeds of 130 mph, Ellis said.

“There wasn’t anything like that at the time,” he added.

When Holmes moved from Canada to Michigan, he needed a place to store and work on his boat, and Ellis offered the space. They became business partners of sorts when Holmes encouraged Ellis to do custom interiors on high-end racing boats.

“I’ve probably done 150 since that time,” Ellis said.

Holmes has been running the Cat Can Do for 20 years. It’s been running longer than anything else Ellis said he could recall.

“It’s been smashed, it’s been hit and it’s been flipped,” Ellis said, but it was in “beautiful shape” prior to Sunday’s crash.

Ellis said Holmes was an average man in a rich man’s racing world.

“He put every dime he made into that boat,” Ellis said.

The Grand Rapids man said what impressed him most about Holmes was his willingness to take the time to answer any questions about his boat.

“That’s rare,” Ellis said. “Not everybody does that.”

It wasn’t unusual for Holmes to lift a child into the boat for a photo opportunity, as well.

When Ellis first heard about Sunday’s crash, he immediately started texting his friend — “Are you OK, bro?” 

“I never got an answer,” Ellis said.

Holmes was a very seasoned driver and one of the longest running in the industry, his friend said.

“If he had any choice of any way to go, this was it,” Ellis said. “He will be missed.”

Holmes is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Ellis said.

The following was posted on the Cat Can Do Facebook page at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday: “We ask for your prayers as we wrap our minds around the events of today. Remember all, as we look for peace and comfort. We feel the love of the boating community and your support is appreciated. The Cat Can Do Racing Team.”

The Miss GEICO Facebook page earlier posted this: “The Miss Geico Race Team was involved in a tragic racing incident in St Clair, MI, today. Driver Marc Granet and throttle man Scott Begovich, were not injured. The entire Miss Geico Race Team extends its thoughts and prayers to the American Ethanol Race Team, family members and friends.”

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