To anyone with a need for speed, the Atlantic City beach is the place to be this weekend. Days before stunt planes and vintage war birds will wow the crowds at the annual Thunder Over the Boardwalk Atlantic City Airshow, dozens of 50-foot powerboats, capable of speeds of 160 mph, will take to the ocean for the Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix.
The races take place noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 23. The 2½-mile race course will stretch from the Atlantic Club to Revel, beginning and ending at the Frank S. Farley State Marina at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
"Being on the water, at any speed, is a sensation that cannot be duplicated anywhere else," says Dave Patnaude, director of the New Jersey Offshore Powerboat Racing Association, the organization producing the event. "Something that makes offshore racing unique is … the actual racecourse changes constantly. The water is never still. It's not a car racetrack."
"The exhilaration of watching boats go by at 100 mph gives you goose bumps," Patnaude says.
The Atlantic City races will be the third of the national Off-shore Powerboat Association's 2013 racing season. The OPA is based in Brick Township, Ocean County.
"We have 40-plus race boats coming into town, a lot of locals coming that are racers, but also teams as far away as the Great Lakes and Florida," Patnaude says.
Powerboats will compete in various classes, including about a half dozen boats in the "extreme" category. Powerboats in the largest class are valued between $1 million and $2 million each, with 2,000 horsepower engines capable of speeds up to 200 mph, Patnaude says.
Fan favorites are Miss Geico of Jupiter, Fla., and Spirit of Qatar, owned by Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani. In order to boost participation, event organizers are also going to give one race team $5,000 as part of a special drawing at the end of the races.
As long as the weather cooperates, the boats will race in Atlantic City for the first time in nearly 25 years, when then-Trump Castle (now Golden Nugget) staged the World Championships in October 1989.
"Atlantic City is the perfect location to hold an offshore race," Patnaude says. "You have a world-class marina, you have world-class beaches, you have a dozen hotel casino properties that range from mild to wild, and there is no location on the East Coast as suitable."
This year's events will begin Friday, June 21, with the completion of the Poker Run, a non-competitive journey from Toms River to Atlantic City. Non-racing boats will make five stops along the way to pick up cards that eventually comprise their poker hand. The best hand wins the top prize of about a $2,500 pot.
On Saturday, June 22, approximately 80 U.S. military veterans and their families will be taken for rides as part of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Racing fans who want to get the best views of the boats should try to snag spots at either Steel Pier or the Caesars Pier, Patnaude says.
Patnaude also encouraged race fans to head to the "dry pits" at the Golden Nugget, where racers will be taking pictures and signing autographs.
"Whether you're fan or not, I encourage everyone to come out and see it," Patnaude says. "Take the Atlantic City Airshow for an example … I'm not a pilot, but I love the airshow. It's just something awesome to see. These races are a great, great thing to watch. It's exciting."
Race weekend schedule:
Friday June 21: N.J. Performance Powerboat Club Poker Run at the Golden Nugget
Saturday June 22: Wounded Warrior powerboat rides, provided by N.J. Performance Powerboat Club at the Golden Nugget; Exotic Car Show at the Golden Nugget
Sunday June 23: Offshore Powerboats Race at noon along Atlantic City's beach