MICHIGAN CITY — As a Brick, New Jersey kid, Scotty Begovich began going to the Benihana Offshore Grand Prix when he was 6 or 7.
"It was one of the premier races in the country," he said. "Every year, we couldn't wait until race day. We'd go and sleep on the boat. We'd go in the pits and watch the boats. I fell in love with it."
Nearly 50 years later, the affair is still burning hot and heavy for the former throttleman and current ownership partner of The Miss Geico powerboat.
"It's an incredible rush," Begovich said. "You've got to be an adrenaline junkie. You're never not scared unless you're going slow. If you don't get scared, you get hurt. It's like racing off road car racing, motocross, but you're going 150 miles an hour out there. I've gone over 200 miles an hour. The first time that lid closed on me, I was very claustrophobic, but like anything else in life, you do it long enough, you get used to it."
From that first time he saw the ocean spray kicking up off the Jersey Shore, Begovich had a dream of owning a boat. A standout athlete in high school, he had a scholarship to play quarterback for Ole Miss, but his career was diverted by an injury and he wound up at Palm Beach State, where he played baseball for the balance of eligibility. He ultimately finished his degree work at Florida Atlantic.
After college, Begovich took a job in sales as a headhunter. The boat dream wasn't quite realized with his first purchase, a smaller hull that he raced for a couple years. As his income began to rise, he was able to buy a bigger, brand new boat that he financed over 20 years.
"I made it into a race boat," Begovich said. "I was racing one of the smaller boats in offshore racing and beating all the bigger boats."
John Haggin, the owner of Platinum Princess, which eventually became Miss Geico, noticed Begovich's talents and persuaded him to join them in 2005.
"I had been racing and working several years," Begovich said. "I told him I wasn't going to leave on a whim to race boats, but he said he'd guarantee my salary and then some for five years, even if it doesn't work. I thought, you only live once, I'll give it a shot."
Begovich hasn't worn a tie since.
"I was corporate America until I was 40, high and tight, shirt and tie," he said. "As soon as I quit, I quit shaving and started growing my hair. My boat sat in the garage. I still owed $15,000 on it. My wife was complaining about it, but I told her, I've earned more money in my career because of that $330 a month boat than I did with my college degree."
In 2006, Geico became the sponsor. A win over then-rival Budweiser in 2008 was the beginning of a glittering 12-year run for Begovich.
"Growing up, everyone looked at Budweiser," he said. "We raced against them for six, seven years, then when it was bought out, all the sponsorships ended. The kids in this generation, when they think of boat racing, they think of Miss Geico. We do it for a living and we take it seriously. It's not a cheap sport."
During his run on board Miss Geico, Begovich added to a resume of 12 world championships, five world records and numerous national titles. He once hit a speed of 213 miles per hour and holds records for average two-way kilometer (194 mph) and two-way mile speed (188 mph). Given special permission by the Naval Academy, he once did a point-to-point run from Annapolis to Baltimore, covering 28 miles in 10 minutes, 13 seconds, clocking over 165 mph in the 47-foot, 12,800-pound, 2,200-horsepower water machine.
"I raced 20 years and decided that's enough," he said. "My wife said, you've done everything there is to do in a boat, except get hurt."
Not that there weren't any near misses. Begovich was once ejected from his smaller boat in a race in Miami. He escaped a fire on The Miss Geico unscathed. In the final race of 2014, he hit a wave coming into harbor that sent the boat airborne, only to land right back onto the water.
"I've never seen a boat that's flown so high," Begovich said. "I thought I was going to take off. We came down right and we ended up winning the world championship."
Haggin retired in 2010, selling the team to AMF Riviera Beach, owned by Marc Granet, Scott Colton, Gary Stray, Gary Goodell and Begovich, who excited the boat for good in 2017.
"I got a little bored, so I got my CDL," Begovich said, laughing. "The first time I drove the truck through Lake of the Ozarks, I was scared more than I was the last 10 years (racing). When I started attending races again, I saw the boat go out, I thought I would wish I was on the boat, but not at all. There was no withdrawal."
Whether in the water or on the shore, Begovich has always looked forward to the sojourn to Michigan City and the hard waters of Lake Michigan.
"This venue is unbelievable," he said. "The fans are educated. They're appreciative. We went to lunch and the waitress said it's the biggest thing in Michigan City all year. She planned her wedding around it. She's getting married Friday on the beach. They're going to the parade. They're going to have their wedding parties and watch the races. The closeness of it, the race is here. The promoters do an unbelievable job. It's one of my favorite races. The water's rougher than the ocean. Fresh water is a lot more dense than salt water and the boat hits hard. One of the roughest races of my life was here, but I'm a Jersey boy. I don't like calm water, except when I have to have my teeth X-rayed."
The Miss Geico fleet comes into the Great Lakes Grand Prix at less than 100 percent. Its top boat sustained over $300,000 in estimated damage as a result of a crash three weeks ago and the back-up, run last week at St. Clair, will be on the lake again this weekend.
"The No. 1 boat is the No. 1 for a reason," Begovich said. "We're still figuring this one out. We started out slow last weekend, but got better as the week went on. We're doing some changes and hopefully we'll do better this weekend."