The fate of the 2022 Sprint Nationals Race in Long Beach, which was denied its permit earlier this year due to safety concerns, is now headed to an administrative appeal hearing after the City Council voted Tuesday night to send the issue to a neutral arbitrator.

City officials denied the permit that race organizers need to hold this year’s event, scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 6, after two of the last three races ended with fatal crashes.

The city has cited unsafe racing conditions, like the limited steering ability of some of the enclosed boats and the wake created by the boats—which officials say led to one driver losing control in the 2021 race—as the basis for denying the permit.

John “Jay” Hart, 37, and Greg Duff, 36, died in crashes in 2021 and 2018, and city officials say that the current layout of the race that has been held at Marine Stadium for over 70 years creates safety issues for drivers and for race fans who could be hit by out-of-control vessels.

Former racers and event organizers have objected to the idea that the race can’t be carried out safely, and Ross Wallach, president of the Southern California Speedboat Club, has pledged to make certain changes to race rules, like not letting encapsulated boats race with open-cockpit boats, restricting the fastest race classes to encapsulated boats and reducing the number of boats allowed to run in a given heat.

Wallach’s appeal, filed in April, noted that both fatal accidents included encapsulated boats and open-cockpit boats colliding with the racers of the open-cockpit boats, who were not harnessed in like the closed-cockpit drivers, dying in both instances.

City rules require the hearing to be held within 60 days of the council vote, but it could happen as soon as 20 days after. That means the hearing could happen anytime between June 13 and July 29.

The hearing officer would have an additional 15 days to issue a ruling, and then the City Council could uphold or overrule the findings. There is the possibility that a decision could be issued after the originally planned Aug. 6 race weekend.

Wallach said Wednesday that “it’s going to be tight either way,” but he’s moving forward as if the event will happen so that the race can go on if he wins his appeal.

City denies permit for Sprint Nationals speedboat race after fatal crash last year

Sprint Nationals organizer appeals denial of permit for 2022 race

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.