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Clearwater Beach sees offshore powerboat race weekend as thundering success

By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer In Print: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

WHM Motorsports, center, moves into Turn 1 in the Superboat Unlimited class as SoBe Entertainment, in the Superboat Vee Unlimited class, front, heads into the straightaway Sunday competing off Clearwater Beach during the first Clearwater Super Boat Offshore National Championship and Festival.

CLEARWATER — Huge crowds turned out over the weekend to watch offshore powerboat races along Clearwater Beach, and local organizers are already talking about bringing the event back next year. The best view was out on the water, where an estimated 20,000 people on 2,400 boats lined the 2.5-mile-long race course. Clearwater police counted another 7,500 spectators on the beach during Sunday’s race. A concert and fireworks show at Pier 60 on Saturday night drew about 5,000. And nearly 9,000 fans filed through the dry pits in Coachman Park during the three-day race weekend to check out sleek 50-foot boats powered by jet engines. “I think we have the perfect venue to do this, with our beach and the hotels,” said local restaurateur Frank Chivas, an organizer and major sponsor of the event. “As far as next year, I’d like to do this thing on Oct. 1, 2 and 3, if the city of Clearwater will have us.” The races were a boost for tourism during what’s normally a slow time of year, according to the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. Officials are waiting for bed tax totals to gauge the total impact, but chamber president Bob Clifford said hoteliers were extremely pleased. “The beach was packed from Pier 60 all the way up to the Carlouel Yacht Club,” said Clifford, who watched the races from a boat at the course’s first turn. “This was big time.” There were a couple of strokes of good luck, too. The weekend was blessed with good weather, and authorities reported no arrests or significant problems. Since beach parking is scarce, hundreds of fans parked downtown and took the Jolley Trolley or chartered buses from Coachman Park to Pier 60. Former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, who was tapped to be a volunteer chairman of the race, was struck by how boaters were drawn to the event like a magnet. “Those boats were five or six deep the whole length of the course,” said Aungst, who watched from atop the Sandpearl Resort. “We’re excited about bringing this back next year and making it bigger and better.” About 30 boats in a number of different classes competed in two races, according to Super Boat International, the organization that ran the races. It’s known for annual powerboat events in Key West, Sarasota and New York City. John Carbonell, the organization’s president, was impressed by the turnout in Clearwater. “The spectator fleet was 3 miles long down the beach. It looked like you could walk from boat to boat and never touch the water,” he said. No Clearwater tax money was used for the race. Organizers paid for things like extra police officers and marine patrols. Chivas, the restaurateur known for establishments like Island Way Grill and Salt Rock Grill, largely underwrote the event with the help of several sponsors. Chivas lured the powerboat race here after he saw a Key West race and thought it would be a good fit for Clearwater Beach “I took all the financial responsibilities. A lot of people have stepped up, but we’re still about $25,000 short,” Chivas said. “The deal was, I knew I had to do it because I believed in this. I knew Clearwater was the perfect spot to do this. Maybe next year we can get some tourism money.” Half the proceeds from beer, food and T-shirt sales at the event will benefit the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, which is strapped for money, Chivas said. “This was a real shot in the arm during the slow season,” said Sheila Cole, executive director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, who showed off an e-mail she received from a Sarasota boat racing fan named Marie Fisher: “We visited your town this weekend for the boat races. What a great time we had. I can’t believe we have never visited Clearwater Beach before.” Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

To see more pictures please click on the link above to the website! Doug Clifford took some amazing shots!