Detroit — He wasn’t sure what to expect at first but Larry Bell, the Bell’s Beer president and founder, was sufficiently excited about sailing his first Bayview Port Huron-to-Mackinac race eight years ago.

“This is awesome,” Bell said, when learning he’d be actually competing, quite the experience for a guy from the landlocked “suburbs of Illinois.”

Fast forward to Wednesday, at the kickoff news conference at Bayview for the 94th sailing of the Mackinac race, this year on July 14.

At this point, for Bell, the race has become a summer highlight.

Bell, whose brewery is a title sponsor of the race, feels the race is a unique piece of what makes Michigan great.

 “Absolutely amazing,” said Bell, who will be aboard Details when the race begins near Port Huron. “We’ve been hit with a little storm at the start line, to getting up north and there’s 7-foot rollers beating the kidneys out of you.”

But, then, Bell talks about when the race is at its best.

“Sunday morning,” Bell said. “Because when you start off you can see everyone. You can see where the competition is. Nighttime, you kind of lose things on your watches, but come morning, we make a line for the buoy on Cove Island and now it’s dawn, or 10 in the morning, and every boat, where you’re going right or left, has to come around that buoy and you can see who is ahead of you, behind you, and it’s all hands on deck.

“It’s the most exciting time on the boat.”

Roaring toward being a 100-year-old event, what makes the Mackinac race special in the eyes of race chairman Gary Shoemaker is the fact it’s a destination race.

“It’s our Super Bowl, it’s our All-Star Game, it’s the best teams,” Shoemaker said. “Not everyone qualifies to sail in the Mackinac race. We vet every team. We look at it and if you need more experience, you can’t go.”

But, ultimately, there will be more than 200 boats, with 2,500 competitors, with crews who are experienced. It’s a diverse collection of sailing enthusiasts.

“We have world-class sailors, professionals who sail in circuits around the world, who come just for this race, but yet, we have families, we have real good amateur sailors, who are engineers at Ford, at General Motors, and they bring their family together and go out and do the race,” Shoemaker said.

As usual, this year’s race will begin in southern Lake Huron (near downtown Port Huron) and head north on two courses — the shorter Shore Course, covering 204 nautical miles (235 statue miles) along the Michigan shoreline, and the longer Cove Island Course (259 nautical/298 statute miles).

An estimated 75,000 sailing families and fans are expected to attend festivities in Port Huron and on Mackinac Island.

“We celebrate the Great Lakes here, we celebrate the skills it takes to be a sailor,” Bell said. “You can’t be dumb out there. You can die on the playing field here. You have to know what you’re doing.

“(The race) is beautiful, exciting, and it’s celebrating the best of Michigan.”

94th Bayview Mackinac Race

When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday, July 14

Where: Lake Huron, just north of the Blue Water Bridge.

Courses: The Shore Course, covering 204 nautical miles (235 statute miles) along the Michigan shore — and the Cove Island Course, 259 nautical miles (298 statute miles) going to the Bruce Peninsula before heading west to Mackinac.

Did you know? Over 200 boats are expected to compete with more than 2,500 sailors participating.