The offshore racing and poker run community lost a huge fixture in January with the passing of Bruce Baker, co-owner of Florida’s Express Marine Engines USA. He also led the engine program for Stahlman Motorsports/Team Predator offshore racing.
A memorial service will be held on February 10, 2024, in DeLand, Fla., to honor Bruce, who passed away January 24 at age 64 of natural causes.
“He lived life every day to the fullest,” said his wife Kathy Baker, who has been with Bruce for 34 years. “He was there for anybody that had any questions, and he was always willing to help. He would go out of his way to help people.”
Bruce was one of motorsports’ premier engine builders, traveling internationally to install and service high-performance engines built at the DeLand race shop. He counted royalty among his clients because of his meticulous workmanship.
“He’s very particular at what he does—he triples checks everything,” said Kenny Hohwiesner, who worked at Velocity Powerboats at the time, met Bruce in 2003. “Everything he did, he went above and beyond making sure everything was right.”
Bruce moved to Florida from Michigan in 1985 and was running a business, B&B Racing, when he met Kathy. Both Bruce and Kathy had a passion for racing and struck it off instantly. Bruce then founded Midnight Express engines, a business that eventually led him to Express Marine Engines USA.
With a passion for motorsports, Bruce started racing stock cars in the early 1990s and later in the decade he took on offshore racing in a new Velocity factory boat with Scott McCormick, who now owns the Sanford, Fla., boat company. Both met when Bruce was working with Pepper Ernest’s offshore race team.
McCormick laughs when recalling the team’s inexperience, noting they were buffing and sanding the gelcoat on the 26-foot Velocity the day before the 1999 Hooters Offshore Race in Fort Myers, Fla. “We had really no time in it, and we go out for the first race,” McCormick said.
With Bruce driving and McCormick throttling, the pair were a few laps in with a half-lap lead when they heard a loud “whoosh.”
“The whole entire engine hatch sucked off and flew up in the air and we’re like, ‘What do we do?’ because we had never raced professionally,” McCormick said. “We ended up winning the race and we laughed because we had to go back over and get the engine hatch that was floating out in the Gulf (of Mexico). We had such a great time. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
While Bruce loved being in the cockpit, he spent much of his career working for offshore teams building and maintaining their engines. He was part of the Stahlman Motorsports/Team Predator program, helping the team win several national and world championships.
“Everybody loved his work and so the word got passed on to other people,” Kathy said. “He was very neat and clean on everything he did and very particular about his work.”
Poker Runs America Publisher Bill Taylor recalls Bruce’s dedication to keeping customers—and non-customers—on the water run for the Florida poker runs. He would run up and down the docks, fixing starters or a fuel pump to make sure a customer’s boat was running.
“He was instrumental in the Poker Runs America circuit,” Taylor said. “I don’t think he ever missed the famous Poker Runs America Season Opener in Sarasota, Fla., or the season finale, in Sarasota, which ran 10 consecutive years, at the famous Sarasota Hyatt.”
Taylor also remembers Bruce working with Kenny Hohwiesner and Poker Runs America Hall of Famer Rusty Luce one of the fastest Velocity Powerboats ever built that ran 135.2 mph at 6,500 rpm.
“Bruce took a set of Nigel Hook’s 1075 motors and rebuilt them with his magic,” Taylor said. “What’s remarkable is four people were onboard when they set the record.”
The boat had staggered engines and were swinging a set of 17.5” x 37” Mercury Racing props with a 1:36 gear ratio
Kathy said Bruce’s business partner John Kaeserman and her son, Fritz King, will continue to operate Express Marine Engines USA, which specializes in engines from 300 to 1,200 horsepower. They learned from the best.
Hohwiesner said Bruce’s passing is a loss for the industry and will miss seeing his friend.
“It’s a huge loss for the performance industry because there’s not a lot of people like that left in the industry,” Hohwiesner said. “It’s all starting to go towards outboards now and he was truly an inboard-outboard guy”.
Bruce is survived by his wife, Kathy; stepson Fritz King; and two granddaughters, Freya and Evelyn and grandson, O’Neil. A celebration of life will be held at Lankford Funeral Home & Crematory in DeLand, Fla.