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Wings honor Mackinac race winners

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – While the hockey team rested in the off-season, the Red Wings organization was busy winning a different kind of trophy.

In this summer’s 87th Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, the Wings sponsored Sorcery, a 34 ½ foot sailboat that beat out the three other Detroit professional sports teams to win the Pro Team Challenge Cup.

Sorcery’s eight-man crew — veteran sailors Steve Tepel, Brian Smith, Larry Smith, Jeff Rayla, Dan Gidcomb, Jim Fisher, Bert Phillips, and Steve Harthorn — was honored during last Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames at Joe Louis Arena.

The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association inaugurated the Pro Team Challenge Cup in 2010. Each year, the Pistons, Tigers, Lions and Wings randomly pick a boat to represent their teams in the Shore Course, a 204 nautical mile race that follows Michigan’s coast from Port Huron to Mackinac Island.

From a field of 220 sailboats, the Wings selected Sorcery, an eleven-year-old cruiser owned by Larry and Brian Smith, a father and son duo that sail out of Bayview and Great Lakes Yacht Clubs.

Altogether, the eight men who sailed Sorcery — old friends on and off the water — have participated in 144 “Macs”. The Wings equipped the crew with hats, shirts, and a flag that was proudly flown through the race.

After heading through some squalls at the beginning of the race, Sorcery crossed the finish line in 37 hours and 13 minutes.

“It’s kind of a grueling race,” said Jim Fisher, a veteran sailor who traces his love for the Wings back to his father, a Detroiter who used to sneak into Olympia Stadium to watch the team practice. “You’re out there in the middle of Saginaw Bay and you don’t see land. Hopefully you’re not in the doldrums where there’s no winds.”

The honor of representing the Wings not only gave the crew something else to push for, but it also kept them in the public eye, as the Bell’s and Bayview websites tracked all participating boats with Global Positioning Systems. Fans of all teams were able to check up on the progress of their team’s boat throughout the race.

“It was fun because people paid attention to it,” Steve Harthorn, a former Wings season ticket holder from Grosse Pointe Farms said. “More people knew we were the Red Wings boat, so I heard about it from my friends, and you don’t usually hear about it.”

Along with family, friends and representatives from the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association and Bayview Yacht Club, Sorcery’s crew watched the Wings-Calgary matchup from a suite at the Joe. They were featured on the Jumbotron between the first and second periods.

“It’s a lot of fun,” skipper Brian Smith said. “It’s more about friendships than anything else. Sailing is secondary.
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