Promoters hope to return offshore powerboat racing to Jupiter area
By BILL DIPAOLO
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer 02/04/2012
JUPITER — Four dozen powerboats racing up to 180 mph between the Juno Beach Pier and Carlin Park in October is just what the local economy needs, said race promoter Jim Hauser.
“It would be a colorful, incredible event. I figure we could attract 20,000 people,” said Hauser, 65, a Jupiter resident and lifelong boater. The Palm Beach World Championship would be a sanctioned stop for the Offshore Powerboat Association, said Hauser, who retired after 30 years with Mercury Outboard Motors in Wisconsin.
Hauser and Nick Scafidi, owner of Nick’s Creative Marine in Riviera Beach, established Powerboater Palm Beach LLC last year to organize the race.
Both men admit they face hurdles before the first 2,000-horsepower engine revs up.
About $180,000 must be raised. Permits are required from state, county, local and federal agencies. Parking must be addressed. Manatees and sea turtles must be protected.
“We need our permits by the end of April to make this happen,” said Scafidi, 47, a Jupiter resident who races powerboats.
While the powerboats – up to 50 feet long and costing up to $1.5 million each – would be a half-mile offshore, they could still endanger green and leatherback sea turtles, who lay their eggs late in the March-November nesting season. Manatees could also be hit by boats, said Blair Witherington, research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Helicopters would be hired to watch for manatees and sea turtles during the Thursday-Sunday event. Promoters would station people on the beach to make sure spectators don’t walk over or sit on sea turtle nests, Scafidi said.
“If there’s a turtle on the course, we stop the race. A collision is as dangerous to the turtle as to the driver of the powerboat,” Hauser said.
Money would be raised by selling tickets for priority seating and access to the Juno Beach Pier. Sponsorships and vendor displays would be sold. Watching from the beach would be free.
“This would be a family, daytime event. The boats would be out of the water by 4 p.m.,” Scafidi said.
The Palm Beach County Sports Commission has given promotion grants of $25,000 each to The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens and Allianz golf tournament in Boca Raton. The powerboat race could get the same or higher grants if it agrees to county promotions and meets hotel room requirements, said Commission Executive Director George Linley.
Parking plans are scheduled to be submitted this week to Jupiter, Juno Beach and Tequesta. Shuttles would bring spectators from offsite parking areas. Permits are required from Juno Beach, Tequesta, Jupiter, Palm Beach County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Like NASCAR, the spectacle and danger of powerboat racing draws big crowds, Scafidi said.
The spectacle brought thousands to north county beaches in 1999, the last time powerboat races were held in the county. About 60 boats in the Palm Beach Offshore Grand Prix Festival went north from Palm Beach Inlet to MacArthur State Park.
“All the beaches on Singer Island were jam-packed. Lots of spectator boats and helicopters,” said Bill Greene, a Juno Beach councilman who helped organize the event.
The danger was brought home last November when three racers died during the Key West Super Boat World Championships. One was killed when the powerboat rolled during a turn. The other two died when their engine flipped.
“When you hit full throttle, you can’t see individual waves. The surface is a blur. Any racer who is not scared to death while driving should not be racing,” said Scafidi, 47, who said he has hit 180 mph during a race.