Safety-Minded Super Stock Teammates Allen And Keys Get Scuba Certification

Safety-Minded Super Stock Teammates Allen And Keys Get Scuba Certification

Former offshore racing world champion, Michael “Doc” Janssen has lived his life pushing the limits and testing the levels of performance when it comes to boat racing, snowmobiling and even scuba diving. Janssen, who is the founder of Center for Spine and Orthopedics in Colorado and now often serves as a volunteer medical director for various offshore racing events, is strongly suggesting that members of the offshore racing community—mainly competitors in the canopied-boats classes—get an open-water scuba certification to ensure that they are confident and knowledgeable if a rollover or accident were to occur during a race.

Billy Allen (left) and Randy Keys (center) had a great time wrapping up their PADI Open Water Diver Scuba Diving Certification in Cozumel, Mexico, with former offshore Michael “Doc” Janssen. Photos courtesy Doc Janssen

While he does not devalue the dunker simulators that competitors must do before a race, such as this weekend’s Powerboat P1-produced Thunder On Cocoa Beach event in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Janssen said the knowledge gained from the replicated experience of going over inside a canopied boat is limited. And that’s the main reason why his longtime, close friend—world champion racer Billy Allen of the Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping Super Stock-class team—decided this offseason to take Janssen up on the offer and asked his teammate, Randy Keys, to join him and get their scuba certifications together.

“I feel like the reality is most boat racers know they have to do the dunker simulator, but they don’t want to do it,” said Janssen, who has been a certified dive instructor for PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, for close to 20 years. “Many racers do it, but they never really get comfortable with it—they just get it checked off and then they’re back in the pits again.”

Allen, who has experienced a couple of significant boat-racing accidents in the past few years, understood when Janssen explained to him that knowledge—in this case learning how regulators, scuba tanks, etc., work—decreases anxiety, and is glad he decided to get certified. He said Janssen was right about being able to understand how these life-saving devices work, especially when the time you need them is in a traumatic situation. He added that it’s a confidence-booster when you’re in a race with 10-plus other boats heading into the first turn.

Doc Janssen (center) said he was honored to help his friends on Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping get their scuba certifications.

“I think getting scuba certified like Randy and I did is a great thing for any boat racer to do, whether they are confident in the dunker or not,” said Allen, who added that he’s very experienced with the dunk simulator and has in fact helped several apprehensive racers get through it for the first time. “I don’t know if it should be mandatory or not, but I know I learned a lot about how the air tanks work and how to assist your teammate in case of a real emergency if he or she is unconscious. I’ve watched people do the dunk test who are already freaked out before it goes over. So what happens when you throw in speed, impact, adrenaline, water and everything else? That anxiety is amplified, no doubt about it.

“I’d guess most of us don’t even know how the air tanks work or how you’re supposed to breathe with it in your mouth,” he continued. “We just put it in our mouths and hope for the best. Taking these scuba classes taught Randy and I a lot about what to do in a bad situation.”

Allen isn’t sure if or how often he’ll use his certification for diving enjoyment, but he’s thankful to have the option as well as a better understanding of how everything operates. He’s also certain spending as much time as he did underwater between in-pool classes and open-water dives is going to prevent him from panicking if he does experience another serious accident during a race.

“I had never tried scuba before—I’ve thought about it but never actually done it,” said Keys, who has previously raced with Allen in the 450R Factory Stock and Super Cat classes with his own KLOVAR Motorsports teams and is excited to compete in Super Stock this season. “I didn’t hesitate when Bill suggested we get certified; the most difficult part about the process was scheduling and all of us finding the time to get together. Fortunately Doc made it pretty easy since he told us what online classes we needed to take and then we joined him for the pool class at his place in Denver to learn and get comfortable with the equipment.

“It’s not a difficult class as long as you pay attention,” he added. “After that we joined Doc and a larger group in Cozumel for the open-water portion. With as many people we had joining us, it was a hair intimidating, but they broke us off into us smaller groups that were learning so it went really well. We got a lot of great advice from some avid divers; of course Doc has a ton of experience so that helped.”

Randy Keys (front) said he’s considering having his wife and three daughters get scuba certified.

Keys explained that it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as he anticipated, but he admitted that doing multiple dives wore him out more than he expected.

“I really did have a lot of fun and it wasn’t stressful at all,” Keys said. “You’re in the sun for a good portion of the day and then you go underwater. And when you’re underwater you’re working—you are breathing different and you feel like you’re in a totally different atmosphere with a different feeling of pressure. Then you come out and you do it again.

“Our main purpose was to feel more confident and have more knowledge behind it for racing,” he continued. “However, my wife went with me to Cozumel and she did what they call an ‘exploratory dive’ and enjoyed it. So we’re thinking we might get our three daughters involved and even try scuba diving as a family. If nothing else, it’ll give us another option when we take a vacation.”

Janssen certainly takes pride in helping Allen and Keys feel more confident as they head into the first race of the 2024 Super Stock-class owners group internal competition schedule.

“After talking to Billy and Randy in the offseason, I told them I would be honored to get them certified for diving so that they can spend hours underwater—not 10 minutes—and hopefully be safer racers,” said Janssen, who has logged almost 4,000 dives since he started at the age of 12. “And they are, I’m sure of it. Randy and Billy were two of the fastest-learning students I can recall training in 10 years. Why is that? Because they’re familiar with the process since they’ve done the dunker before and they really wanted to take it to another level. They’re more advanced now because instead of going to a race site where they spent 10 minutes on a regulator under the water, these guys spent about 10 hours under water when we went to Cozumel. They are way more comfortable and their anxiety levels dropped completely in that environment.

“Anyone who has met me knows I like transferring knowledge and experiences, which is where my relationship with Billy and Randy came into play,” added Janssen who has hosted both racers at his Powerboaters Snowmobile Rally at Saratoga Resort and Hot Springs in Wyoming in the past—Allen, whom he’s known for decades, has attended many times. “But beyond friends and colleagues of mine, I think all racers, even pleasure boaters with canopied boats, should consider getting scuba certified.”

Both Allen and Keys said they now have a better understanding of how the safety equipment in their raceboat works.

Janssen said he’s in favor of developing some standards that are approved through dive agencies for anyone who is going to be using this equipment in a canopy boat.

“In racing, especially, we all know that there is a risk involved,” Janssen expressed. “But if you and your teammate have a deeper understanding of your safety equipment, it will give you additional confidence in the cockpit.”

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