Al Copeland 1944-2008, by Allan Brown
In 1984, I attended the Northport, Michigan offshore race. I was ‘Prez’ of Cougar Marine in those days, and we were having about as much fun as one could have in the way of winning races, setting records, etc… Al Copeland was there with his entourage of planes, choppers, boats, bikes and blondes. The night before the race, Al offered to take me to dinner. I politely refused, and asked where one might find an upper class meal in tiny Northport. “Not here, we are going to Wisconsin, to one of Bill’s (Sirois) favorite steak joints. Can I bring you anything?” “Sure, Al, bring me a rare ribeye, a bottle of old Beaujolais, and a blonde, pretty waitress.”
Off they went in Al’s Agusta Bell 109 helicopter across lake Michigan to dine. At about 10:00 in the evening, a black limousine prowled the streets of Northport until it found me in a local saloon, doing my “Lying for drinks” act. In walked a beautiful blonde waitress with a silver tray who served me a still-warm two pound aged ribeye steak, and a bottle of very old Chateau Lafitte. The locals were so impressed, they almost believed some of my stories.
In 1982, the Offshore Racing Commission, in a ‘thinking outside the mind’ moment, had approved the “Superboat” rules. The new rules basically allowed that anything that Al could buy, we could build. While it was a Godsend for a few companies (us) and a few individuals, (Al), it was in my opinion, the end of true International competition, and the end of the possibility for the average millionaire to compete for the top prizes. Steve Ridgway, my general manager at Cougar, and I, flew to New Orleans to sell Al the first 50’ quad engined 130MPH superboat aluminum catamaran. I had made same trip two years previous to sell Al a 30’ Flight Marine cat which currently held the UIM Class one straightaway record of 121 MPH.
We carried some drawings and sketches and arrived at Popeye’s World Headquarters right on time at 10:00 AM. Bill Sirois, Al’s cohort and throttleman was there to greet us, and sat with us in the lobby as chefs came by every three minutes and forced us to ‘test fly’ some new chicken-related recipe. Some of them were really good, and, some of them were, well, not really good. Come to think of it, no one ever asked if we liked any of it. After an hour, and 6500 calories, we were ushered into the inner sanctum of Al’s not surprising Taj Mahal office. Al was dressed in a Popeyes T-shirt and jeans, and sat in a three thousand dollar desk chair. “Whaddya got for me, Brownie?” I flopped the folder onto his 10 foot wide desk. Bill went around to Al’s side and peered over the drawings. AL: “Wow! This is sensational. What do you think it will do?” ME: “I think it will fuck up offshore racing for the next several generations”. Al was not to be deterred. He sent us back out to the lobby for another 3000 calories and to make some contract modifications. There was no point in going to lunch.
At about 5pm, Al herded us into a limo and we headed toward his boathouse on Lake Ponchartrain. (If you are going to be a big hitter in Nahwluns society, you MUST have a Ponchartrain boathouse. Al had two.) We were greeted by his wife de jour; beautiful, blonde, built, friendly, etc. She reminded Steve and me of Heather Locklear, only more so. Al showed us around the place(s). The furnishings and decorations reminded me of Carroll Shelby’s motto. “If a whole bunch is okay, then too much is just right.” Al came up with another 8 or 9,000 calories for dinner and dessert, and we sucked down a few thousand dollars worth of fine wines. We were getting pretty mellow about 2am, when the conversation bent around to unique, interesting people that we had met. Steve Ridgway mentioned his friend, Adrian Reynard, who was an aerodynamicist for our sister company, Toleman Group Formula One Racing Team. Ayrton Senna, Derrick Warwick and Teo Fabi were among our outstanding drivers (Cars, not so outstanding). Although our team had the lowest budget in F1, we had some of the best drivers. Adrian was a brilliant engineer, and later his chassis was the choice for CART and Indy cars. Adrian lived in a one-room cottage in the English countryside that, while being small, was a marvel from a brilliant mind. It had all the necessities of life, but the high point of the design was a sunken hot tub that took up fully half of the living area. Adrian had designed and built the tub himself, and the sides of it were sculpted to include handholds, footholds, toeholds, ropes, etc. to allow every conceivable Kama Sutra position. Al’s ears perked up when heard Steve describe the architecture and declared “I will have one of those hot tubs in my boathouse in 30 days. I don’t care what it costs! Get me Adrian Reynard!”
As it turned out, we got Adrian to design a tub for Al, but the builder nixed the two tons of water on the second floor of the wooden structure. We did, however, get the check to build the big cat, Popeyes, which turned them into the best known offshore team, and offshore racing into a conspicuous consumption orgy. Its effect on offshore racing was in general was pretty much as I had predicted.