If you’re a fan of Australian water ski racing and the Southern 80, the chances are that you’ve had this argument once or twice before.
Well, we thought it was about time that we set the record straight. We’ve trawled through the race archives and put together this list of the most dominant boat from each decade (1970s–2010s). The next time this topic of conversation comes up around the campfire, you’ll be armed with the facts.
Leave a comment on Facebook letting me know who I forgot and who your personal favourites are. There are some absolute classics on here, but I’m sure to have missed one or two.
Outright Winner: 1975, 1977, 1978
In 1975, Australia switched from the imperial system (miles) to the metric (km’s). That same year, the race that had traditionally been known as the Southern 50 was renamed to become the Southern 80. A total of 47 entered the race.
That same year, Suicide III enjoyed its first outright win, marking the start of a legacy. Two years later, Suicide became the first boat to ever win back-to-back races in 1977 (with a time of 42:05) and 1978 (with a time of 43:30). The iconic wooden boat also broke the 5-litre record in 1976 and the 6-litre record in 1977.
All three outright wins were driven by racing legend Lenny Retallick. As an early pioneer of the Southern 80, Len was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. Skier Roy Turner also joined the Hall of Fame in the same year, having played a vital role in the 1977 and 1978 wins.
Today, Suicide is still a crowd favourite but goes under a new name – Cinders.
Outright Winner: 1986, 1987, 1988
The early 1980s saw the Southern 80 begin to attract serious crowds, with a total of 103 boats entering the race in 1981.
In 1982, the event was won outright by the Rolco IV with a time of 38:25. Then, the Rolco VI took the honours in 1984 with a time of 40:30. Both of these wins were driven by the late great Ted Hurley, who dominated the decade and also lead Recovery to an outright win in 1987 with a time of 37:15.
After it’s 1984 victory, the Rolco VI was sold to Murray Price who renamed the boat simply as Rolco. However, the legend didn’t end there. Rolco went on to again win outright in 1986 (time of 36:18) and 1988 (time of 36:12). Both wins were driven by Murray himself.
Special Mention: Island Cooler (1989, 1990)
This list just wouldn’t be complete without including the iconic supercharged Island Cooler. It was the first boat to record back-to-back Southern 80 victories since Suicide in 1978. Both wins were record-breaking, with a time of 35:03 in 1989 and 34:18 in 1990 (for an average speed of 140km/h). This marked the first time that a boat had finished the race in under 35 minutes. Hall of Famer Leo Welch was the observer in both races, before driving The Mistress to victory in 2016.
Add some eye-candy to your mancave and pick up one of our Southern 80 Outright Winner Banners today, featuring an awesome Island Cooler design that can’t be found anywhere else.
Outright Winner: 1995, 1998
The 1990s saw the start of two day racing at the Southern 80 and attracted over 300 entries each year. But two iconic boats in particular stood above the rest and dominated this decade with a fierce rivalry: God’s Gift and Gotta Be Crazy.
Gotta Be Crazy from North Queensland landed the first punch in 1993, with an outright victory and a time of 33:48.
However, the team at God’s Gift had a trick up their sleeve. Local skier Jamie Oliver had already enjoyed back-to-back Southern 80 victories with Island Cooler in 1989 and 1990, before joining driver Graham Ritchie and his twin-turbo. In 1995, God’s Gift took the outright victory and set a new record with a time of 32:38.
A year later in 1996, Gotta Be Crazy hit back again with another outright win and a time of 32:33.
However, God’s Gift got the last laugh, ending the rivalry in 1998 with another outright win and a new record time of 32:02 (at an average speed of 168km/h). This earned Jamie his 4th outright win at the Southern 80, a record for a skier at the time which later led to his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Savage Force carries a huge range of vintage God’s Gift merch. If you're a lover of this legendary twin-turbo, grab one of the custom-designed tees or singlets to show off at the next event.
Special Mention: Gotta Be Crazy (1993, 1996)
Outright Winner: 2005, 2006, 2008
The 2000s was a decade of upheaval for the Southern 80. In 2007, an unfortunate incident between two social boats meant that the race had to be shortened. Then in 2009, the race had to be abandoned as emergency crews were called away to assist with the Black Saturday bushfires.
However, throughout the ups and downs, one boat in particular managed to remain consistent and build a legacy for itself: Hellbent.
The 1500hp 8.4-litre Big Block Chevy V8 was revolutionary for its time. Owner and driver Mark Cranny and veteran ski racer Stuart Thomas (who was also an observer on God's Gift), poured years of research and development into making Hellbent an absolute beast of a boat.
All that hard work paid off in 2005 when Hellbent claimed its first Southern 80 outright win with a time of 32:46. The team went back-to-back the next year with an outright win in 2006 and a time 31:37. Finally, Hellbent enjoyed one last outright victory in 2008 and set a new record with a time of 30:43.
Mark Cranny drove all three of Hellbent’s victories, joined by Damien Matthews as observer. However, the successful duo was not done yet. In fact, they were only just getting started…
Special Mention: Blown Budget (2003)
It’s hard to complete this list without mentioning crowd favourite Blown Budget, which won the Southern 80 outright in 2003 with a time of 31:42. What made Blown Budget so popular was the team’s comeback story. Driver Michael Dominguez and skiers Brett Dominguez and Steve Morley had won the event outright a full 11 years earlier with Thundernuts.
You can find a huge range of classic Blown Budget merch on our Savage Force website. It’s one of our most popular lines and it sells out quickly, so grab it now while it’s still in stock.
Outright Winner: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015
The 2010s brought with it a new era of teams and boats that were at the forefront of racing technology. But Cranny and Matthews weren’t done raising hell just yet. In fact, they’d only just begun.
Before driving Hellbent to success in the late 2000s, Cranny had enjoyed one outright win in 2002 with Hellrazor (time of 32:33). It would be another 8 years before we saw Hellrazor return to the podium. But once she was there, she was there to stay.
In 2010, 2 years after the Hellbent record, Hellrazor took the outright win and set a new record with a time of 30:32. The Hellrazor team, consisting of Cranny, Matthews and skiers Jason Walmsley and Peter Proctor seemed to be a winning combination.
It was this same combination that led Hellrazor to win outright in a flooded Murray in 2011, with a respectable time of 58:52. Then again in 2012, Hellrazor took the title with a time of 30:37 (this time without Jason Walmsley). And again in 2013, Hellrazor scored a fourth outright win with a time of 30:36.
After becoming the first boat to take 4 back-to-back titles, many were left wondering whether Hellrazor had anything left to prove. But indeed, they did. In 2015, the Hellrazor team returned the podium one last time, smashing their previous record and becoming the first boat in Southern 80 history to break the 30-minute barrier with a time of 29:43.
The mainstay Hellrazor team currently stands as the most successful team in Southern 80 history. Marc Cranny has enjoyed more victories than any other driver, with 9 outright wins in total. He shares 8 of those wins with observer Damien Matthews (who also won 1 title as a skier with Island Cooler). Jason Walmsley is the most successful skier in the event’s history, with 6 outright wins in total. He is closely followed by Peter Proctor with 5 outright wins.
You can immortalize Hellrazor in your own mancave or workshop with one of our custom-designed banners. Now there’s some extra inspiration for you to get out to the shed!
Special Mentions: Merc Force (2017/2018)
It’d be wrong of us to leave out back-to-back winners Merc Force in a special mention. It’s teams like Merc Force, Arkham 99, Agitator, TR and Superman which will be paving the way for the Southern 80 in the 2020s. We can't wait to see these guys pushing the limits of the sport in years to come.
We have a huge range of Savage Force teamwear online and in-store. Check out our fresh designs and get in before they're all gone.