Work of Art

Mike Cassidy loves boats and going fast. He’s not slowing down anytime soon.

By Gregg Mansfield

As a child Mike Cassidy would travel from Florida to Delaware by boat with his father getting a practical education on navigating and seamanship.

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While Cassidy’s father preferred the journey, the son was about getting to the destination as quickly as possible. Boat trips that should have taken a few days would stretch into a week.

“He would pull in especially if there was a good bar and if the weather was foul the next day, he was in no rush to leave,” Cassidy said. “I’m a little more hyper. If there is a good time happening, I might stick around but other than that I can’t sit.”

It’s only natural that Cassidy would get into performance boating, especially plodding along on big cruisers and sport fish boats as a kid. The experience traveling back and forth to Florida by boat helped Cassidy develop a healthy respect for boats and the water.

“You get a lot of education on navigating, especially when you get offshore and you’re out there for 10, 12 hours in a day,” said Cassidy, who lives in Wilmington, Delaware. “Back then, GPS was just coming about. Heck, he was old school. He had a compass and a chart and a Lowrance.”

Today, long trips up and down the East Coast are left to his childhood. Cassidy prefers boating on his home waters of Chesapeake Bay and participating in poker runs.

Cassidy got into high-performance boating almost two decades ago when he went for a ride in a 33-foot Baja with a pair of blown big-block engines. “I never had been over 100 mph and that boat ran like 105,” he said. “The thrill of it just caught me like a kid at a circus.”

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From left to right: Michael Cassidy, Mike Cassidy, Jim McNeal and Joe Minchini.

Cassidy got out of circle track racing—he competed for 15 years—to focus on boating. He went in deep and currently owns five performance boats that he stores at his rental facility in Delaware. His stable of boats includes a Fountain 42 Poker Run Edition, Fountain 38 Center Console, a 46-foot Black Thunder, a 52-foot turbine powered Nor-Tech and a pontoon boat.

Having owned nearly a dozen boats over the years, Cassidy said his favorite brand is still a Fountain Powerboat. Cassidy owned one of the more notable Fountains, a 42-footer that reportedly ran 140 mph. Engine builder Ron Potter built a pair of 1,350-hp engines for the V-bottom.

“A lot of people knock the Fountains but you’re not going to find a boat to perform and handle like they do,” Cassidy said.

Tasked with maintaining the boat is Cassidy’s good friend Jim McNeal. Both met when McNeal rented a building from Cassidy’s father in the early 2000s. McNeal borrowed a forklift one day and the friendship was struck.

McNeal retrofitted a 41-foot Chris-Craft Stinger by putting in a pair of 650-hp engines and Bravo drives. They partnered on a used Fountain 12 Meter boat but problems with the engines and drives sent Cassidy looking for a boat with Mercury Racing No. 6 drives.

“That’s when we found the Fighting Irish boat and we went down (to Florida) and we looked at it and we ended up dragging it home that day,” McNeal said. “That’s when that go-fast portion really started, that’s where we stepped the game up.”

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Mike Cassidy and his wife Lisa are joined from left: Son Patrick, Nephew Matthew Fenimore, and daughter Shannon.

Keeping a handful of boats maintained and running is a challenge for McNeal, especially since he works full-time as a project manager for an electrical firm. That means work is done at night or on the weekends, and Cassidy is right next to him assisting.

“We stay on top of it but when stuff breaks, he understands it,” McNeal said. “Most guys get all pissed off when their (crap) breaks but he sort of expects it. We’ve broken a lot as most people do, especially when you’re trying to chase the 140-mph mark and trying to turn 1,350 horsepower out of a piston-power motor on 93-octane.”

The pair are focused on dialing in the Nor-Tech after shipping the turbines to Nebraska to be refreshed. McNeal doesn’t think the boat will be a 140-mph rocket like Cassidy’s old Fountain but the top speeds will be close.

“We bumped the horsepower in (the turbines) so lord knows, you never know what’s over the next hill,” McNeal said. 

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In the quest for more speed, Cassidy was asked why he no longer owns a catamaran. Cassidy, who once ran 182 mph in a friend’s 38 Skater, said he didn’t like the way catamarans turn.

“My wife (Lisa) and kids knew that if I had a cat, no matter what, I would push it to its fullest,” Cassidy said. “That was sort of an agreement I had that I would get rid of the cat and stick to V-bottoms.”

The 57-year-old Cassidy is also going to sell a couple of his boats but is figuring out which ones to part with. “I’m trying to simplify things, I’m going to sell a couple things here,” he said.  

Cassidy at one time was a regular on the poker run circuit but has cut back to two or three poker runs this year because of work and family obligations. “I would like to do a lot more but it’s just hard to get away,” he said.

Cassidy founded an industrial/commercial painting company 35 years ago and the firm has 82 employees. In addition to painting, Cassidy’s company does fire proofing, spray foam insulation and sandblasting. His painting firm has expanded into boats doing custom paint jobs on large V-bottoms and catamarans.

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He also founded an equipment rental company, which he sold to Sunbelt Rentals this year. Most of Cassidy’s focus now is developing real estate, which allows him to work with his children. Cassidy’s oldest son Michael, 31, holds his commercial real estate license, while his youngest son Patrick, 23, handles estimating and the office. His daughter Shannon, 25, and her husband are active in the company.

McNeal has been impressed how Cassidy has built up his companies and is generous to his employees.

“He was self-made,” McNeal said. “Everything he’s done, he’s done from scratch and it shows with his personality because he’s a very outgoing person, and a very genuine person.”

McNeal calls Cassidy a great friend that has stood by him even in tough times.

“When you go through a divorce and you go through family stuff like that, your friends go through it with you,” McNeal said. “He’s always the type of guy to stand beside you no matter what. He’s a genuine go-to guy. That’s the kind of person he is.”   

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