By JAMES COSTELLO
Racing runs in the Finlinson DNA.
It’s a love affair with speed that began two generations and more than half a century ago when grandfather Tom Finlinson began racing cars in the 1960s. After retiring from auto racing to start a family, he revived his interest in motorsports when he began racing snowmobiles with son Bryan, who soon took an interest in jet ski racing, first borrowing his neighbor’s jet ski and eventually winning a world championship in the late ’90s. And now, that legacy has come full circle.
Bryan’s sons Jay and Bob recently competed in the International Jet Sports Boating Association 2019 Thai Airways World Finals at Lake Havasu, where Jay took home a world title in the Amateur Runabout 1100 Stock class.
“It was pretty cool since it was my first world title. I was really excited,” said Jay, a freshman at Wawasee High School.
“It’s pretty neat. I won at the world finals, I think like in 1998 or 1999. It’s extremely difficult to do,” said Bryan. “I don’t know if I was 30 years old or whatever, and he’s only 14. I knew we’d do well out there, but it’s very tough to win.”
Jay competed in a total of five classes on three different machines, placing second in one of the other classes and fourth in two more. Younger brother Bob, a seventh-grader at Wawasee Middle School, competed in two different classes. His highest finish came in the Junior Ski 10-12 Stock, where he placed second. He overcame some early difficulties in the Junior Ski 10-12 Lites to salvage an eighth-place result in that class.
“The first race I flipped it over and got passed by three people and then the second race on the last lap my spark plugs vibrated out, so it slowed me down a lot, and I still ended up getting eighth overall,” he explained.
“I just went into a turn, and I submarined under the water. I popped up out of the water, and I was flipped upside down, so I had to swim to it and flip it over and get started again,” he recalled of capsizing his jet ski.
Racing, even on water, can be dangerous. Racers must stay calm and focused on the task at hand, which can be difficult, particularly at crowded starting lines.
“Sometimes I get worried that if I fall off I’m going to get hit so I concentrate,” explained Jay. “If you’re on the start, and there’s people in front of you and you can’t see because all the spray is up and it’s crazy, you don’t want to slow down because there could be someone behind you that could run up on top of you. So you just want to stay on the gas all the time.”
It’s a sport that takes not only driving know-how but a considerable amount of technical knowledge as well.
Bryan has mostly retired from racing to help his sons, and the fledgeling racers have a number of sponsors to provide equipment and knowledge as well. Ahead of the IJSBA event, for example, the boys were able to take advantage of the dynamometer at Syracuse’s own Technical Services — which displays a host of real-time technical data on a given engine — to ratchet one of their jet skis up from 140 to 171 horsepower.
“It’s pretty lucky that we have one in our own little town here. We can put our engines on the dyno and tune them to get them better and fast for races,” Jay said.
The Finlinson brothers’ accomplishments at the 2019 IJSBA worlds are even more impressive considering they only began racing three years ago. Jay plans to continue collecting world championships, and Bob hopes to add some of his own to the family collection someday.
“When I practice I just try to go as hard as I can so next world finals I can win even more world championships,” said Jay.
“I focus on the next race or the next practice,” echoed Bob. “I just hope to maybe win a world championship someday.”
Given their own histories, neither Tom nor Bryan was surprised when the boys expressed a desire to race. But the third-generation iteration of the family love affair has been a special experience for the older Finlinsons to share.
“I’m very proud,” said grandpa Tom. “I was very proud of Bryan’s accomplishments, and so it was really special to see them come along and get involved in it now.”