Two boat-racing circuits coming
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published February 29, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Offshore racing fans can look forward to double the fun this year, as two competing sanctioning bodies hope to stage events off the Pier.
Representatives of the Offshore Super Series have applied for a permit to race large, canopied powerboats June 26-27. The American Power Boat Association's Offshore Division, which until this year was headquartered in St. Petersburg, plans to run a race with smaller, "factory" boats in Tampa Bay on Oct. 16-17.
"We are very excited," said Todd Werner, a former world and national champion in the Super Cat Light Class, which broke away from APBA last year. "We think St. Pete is a quality venue. We hope to bring all the big boats here in the fall."
For five years the Super Cat class was APBA Offshore's premier division. But last fall a group of Super Cat racers boycotted the organization's world championships in Orange Beach, Ala. Many of the teams raced in Key West with an independent promoter.
The boycott by the "Super Series" teams was one reason the for-profit APBA Offshore was forced to shut down and reform under new leadership as a nonprofit corporation.
"We are looking forward to returning to St. Petersburg," said Bob Bull, APBA Offshore's new chairman. "We have only been at the controls a few months, but already things are moving ahead in a positive manner."
For years offshore powerboat racing was a club sport. But five years ago Michael Allweiss, a St. Petersburg attorney whose family has a long racing history, tried to elevate the sport. He tightened the rules, shortened the race course and pushed for stadium-style seating at race venues.
Allweiss met with initial success, staging several successful races in St. Petersburg, but eventually he found it difficult to turn a profit. Bull, a vee-bottom racer who has a successful industrial air-conditioning business, hopes to return the sport to its roots.
"I thought the first thing we should do is make it a nonprofit," he said.
Werner, a veteran catamaran driver, said he thinks the Offshore Super Series is the wave of the future.
"We will only have big boats," he said. "It is all high-dollar hardware. That is what people want to come to see."
A cornerstone of previous APBA races was the local or "performance" racing. Typically held on a Saturday, local boaters had a chance to race in speed-bracketed competitions before the pro series racers took the course Sunday.
To date, the Offshore series has roughly 30 teams signed up to run its first race April 24-25 in Biloxi, Miss. The APBA Offshore series kicks off its season May 15-16 in Marathon.
Werner, who campaigned a boat named Flowmaster for several seasons, will race a new Super Cat this year with three-time world and national champion John Tomlinson of Miami. Tomlinson, arguably the best throttleman in offshore racing, spent three seasons with Hugh Fuller of Clearwater.
"We will be racing together this year in some SBI (Super Boat International) races," Fuller said. "We are going to wait and see how things shake out."
The Super Boat series never has come to St. Petersburg but has made several stops in Sarasota. It kicks off its season in Miami.
Officials with the Offshore tour have signed an agreement with Super Boat to stage a joint race in November in Key West. A spokeswoman for the Offshore group said it is negotiating with more than a dozen cities to fill the five remaining spots on this year's schedule.
"We have our first and last races set in stone," said Elain Motl, the Offshore executive director. "It won't be long before we fill in the gaps in between."
[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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