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Good family fun -- with speed

Team Linebacker and Ausome are built on the strengths of two families.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Football and powerboat racing have a lot in common.

"Both sports take teamwork," said Rick Anderson Jr. of Team Linebacker. "One guy can't do it alone."

Anderson and teammate Bob Spitulski played outside linebacker together in high school.

"I'd say you go that way, I'll go this way, and we'll meet at the quarterback," Anderson recalled. "And it usually worked."

Anderson graduated and went to Auburn. Spitulski played at Central Florida and later for the Seattle Seahawks. Knee injuries cut both men's careers short, so they decided to pursue something safer, like powerboat racing.

"My dad actually introduced me to the sport," Anderson said. "He's the one who put it all together."

Rick Anderson Sr., 57, a retired banker, has a reputation on the racing circuit as a tough and honest competitor. He has three sons -- Rick Jr., Mike and Bob -- but the old man looks like he could beat) all three in a 40-yard dash.

"We all try to stay in shape," Rick Sr. said. "You need to if you want to race."

His Factory 2 boat, Ausome, has finished regularly at the front of the fleet this season. He throttles, son Mike drives and Bob, the youngest, works as crew chief. Rick Jr. helps out when he isn't running his Factory 1 boat, Team Linebacker, with Spitulski, who recruited two of his brothers. "It is a real family affair," Anderson Sr. said. "And that is what it takes, a family effort."

The four Andersons and three Spitulskis look for guidance from Carol Anderson, a k a, "The Boss," the woman who got the ball rolling three years ago for the Andersons and Spitulskis.

"Formula had sent out a brochure about a race-ready boat they were offering," Rick Sr. said. "I tossed it in the garbage, but Carol fished it out and said, "I can't believe you don't want to do this."'

Rick Sr. gave it some thought, then came over to the World Championships in St. Petersburg. Eric Treadwell of the F2-98 Treadwell Motorsports took Rick Sr. for a ride in his 38-Formula, and he was hooked.

"I called the family together and said if we are going to do this, it is going to take a commitment of both time and money," he said. "And they all said they were in."

Rick Sr. and Rick Jr. took turns throttling for Mike their rookie year, but it wasn't long before Rick Jr. wanted a boat of his own.

"So I called up Bob ... mom always said he was the fourth son and he was ready to go," Rick Jr. said.

Spitulski was no stranger to speed. Older brother John was an avid motorcycle racer. Younger brother Jimmy also crewed on his brother's race team. So they bought a Velocity, a boat built in Sanford, a short drive from their Orlando home, and got ready to race.

"We thought it would give us a good excuse to get together on the weekend," Rick Jr. said. "And keep those competitive juices flowing."

Team Linebacker won its debut at a race in St. Cloud. "We set the bar pretty high," Rick Jr. said. "We didn't know it was going to be such a hard act to follow."

But at their next race in Fort Myers, the linebackers got their first taste of rough water and finished sixth. In Corpus Cristi, Texas, another rough race, they punched a hole in the boat but managed to finish fourth. Another sixth followed in Sarasota.

In St. Claire, Mich., they received their baptism by fire.

"We made a mistake and caught one of those big freighter's wakes," Rick Jr. said. "We launched it, tripped it up and stuffed it."

The boat was destroyed, but Anderson and Spitulski survived. Both men were hospitalized and have scars from the accident.

"They had angels sitting on their shoulders," Carol Anderson said. "Those boys were very lucky."

They credit their recovery to their fitness. But while bodies heal, it can take time to recover mentally from a near-death incident.

Rick Jr. hasn't raced since St. Claire, though he has run the F2 at race speeds several times with brother Mike. And even though Spitulski will be at the starting line today with another partner, the old football buddies haven't ruled out running together again next season.

"I have been doing some thinking ... I have a wife and three boys of my own," Rick Jr. said. "But if we have the right boat, who knows. I could see it happening."

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