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Engineering Student Races Speedboats Internationally

Michael Akerstrom Competes in World Championships in Europe

Akerstrom racing in England Photo by David Recht
Michael Akerstrom pilots speedboat No. 8, nicknamed the 'Ironhead,' at full throttle in this photo taken on Aug. 29, 2015 in Nottingham, England, during the world championship for the OSY-400-class of speedboats.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Michael “Iron Mike” Akerstrom feels the need ... the need for speed. The 22-year-old plastics engineering senior from Westford has been racing speedboats in international circuits since 2013, with his 33-horsepower engine powering his 12-foot carbon-fiber-and-wood hydroplane boat to speeds reaching up to more than 65 miles per hour.

To date, Akerstrom has competed in Barcis, Italy; Chodziez, Poland; and Nottingham, England, where he finished fifth overall out of 20 finalists from 14 different countries. In July, he raced in the UIM World Hydroplane Championship in Tallinn, Estonia, where he came in sixth. 

“It’s absolutely amazing to represent the United States abroad,” he says. “Being the only American team in the races, we generally attract a lot of attention from spectators and competitors alike. I’ve had the opportunity to meet, go against and make friends with the best drivers from all over Europe.”
Akerstrom receiving award Photo by David Recht
Akerstrom receives a trophy for his fifth-place finish in the OSY-400 World Championships in Nottingham in 2015.

Akerstrom currently drives for the Quincy-based U.S. A-Team, the only American outboard racing organization dedicated to international competition. The team, which owns and maintains the boats as well as ships them overseas each summer, is sponsored by the American Powerboat Association (APBA) as well as its own members.

Akerstrom inherited the racing gene from his father and grandfather. “They both dabbled in classic 1950s-era Mercury outboards and hydroplane hulls as a hobby, so I was around hydroplanes and classic motors from as early as I can remember,” he says.
Akerstrom takes a break in Poland Photo by David Recht
Akerstrom takes a break in the races in Chodziez, Poland in July 2014.

Akestrom first became involved with racing at age 11, when his father took him to Standish, Maine, where he was racing his classic D-class hydroplane that topped out at 80 miles per hour. The following year he joined the APBA’s Junior Division, competing unofficially in a home-built hydroplane.

“I was hooked,” he says. “I worked my way up from the junior class to the ultra-competitive C class, where I currently race. Over the years, racing went from a hobby to a serious passion for me.”

The Key to Success

If it were not for UMass Lowell’s professional co-op program, Akerstrom says, he wouldn’t have been able to afford to race in Europe.

“I take advantage of every opportunity presented by the Office of Career Services to build my professional resumé by going out and working for companies in the plastics engineering field.  Almost all of the money I made from my last three paid co-ops — at Keurig in 2013, Bausch & Lomb in 2015 and Lubrizol this year — went to paying for plane tickets, entry fees, parts and gas,” he says. 
Akerstrom racing in Poland Photo by David Recht
Akerstrom drives the U.S. A-Team’s speedboat No. 86 in Chodziez.

At Keurig in Bedford, Akerstrom worked in the plastics manufacturing group for the K2.0 coffee brewer, making sure contractors made the components to the company’s specifications and conducting failure analysis on the parts. At Bausch and Lomb in Rochester, N.Y., he worked in the contact lens molding group. His job responsibilities included setting up, validating and conducting statistical analysis of the process for making the lens mold, troubleshooting any issues with the tooling and generating work instructions for manufacturing technicians. At Lubrizol, he made polymer materials for the company, which is a global leader in specialty chemicals.

“My education at UMass Lowell has given me real-world experience working in the plastics industry, a very wide and relevant knowledge base and job-finding skills like resumé-writing and interviewing,” he notes. “After I graduate, I plan to pursue designing plastic components for the medical device industry and work my way up to racing Formula One tunnel boats.”

Akerstrom’s advice to incoming students?

“Go to class — you’ll never regret it. Go into the co-op program. You’ll be able to figure out if you actually like what you’ll be doing after graduation or not. Most importantly, work hard, but don’t forget to have fun!”