ATLANTIC CITY — George Riley, of Egg Harbor Township, enjoyed himself so much two years ago at the free Combat Wounded Veterans of America powerboat rides that he returned to do it again Saturday.
NJPerformance Powerboat Club in Toms River treated veterans outside the Golden Nugget to a powerboat ride, an antique-car display, an evening cocktail party — or all three.
Riley, 46, said his father-in-law once owned a boat docked in Wildwood, but it was not a speedboat.
“I got to go over 100 mph. It was different. It was a good, fun time,” he said.
Riley arrived with his wife, Kim, 44, his daughter, Kaitlin, 9, and his in-laws. Two years ago, one of his sons also took the boat ride, but none of his sons were with the family Saturday. Riley, an Army captain, has done six tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The free boat ride for veterans coincided with the race boat testing Saturday offshore. The Atlantic City Veterans Offshore Grand Prix starts at noon today.
For the past three years, the boat rides were coordinated with the Wounded Warrior Project, but this year, it was the Combat Wounded Veterans of America who spread the word about the event, said Dave Patnaude, NJ Performance Powerboat Club president.
Since the early 1990s, there had been races along the beach. The Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix has been here since 2010, Patnaude said.
Besides the free veterans powerboat rides, the powerboat club does a Shore Dreams For Kids event in July in Seaside Heights, Ocean County.
“I enjoy meeting the veterans. ... There are numerous ‘Thank yous’ I hear from the veterans,” said Patnaude, who added the best place to see the powerboat races today is Steel Pier. “I’m very familiar with Atlantic City. I love Atlantic City. I think Atlantic City gets a bum rap.”
Eddie Grifino, of Brooklyn, New York, was a member of the U.S. Army. He served in Vietnam, where he was hit by shrapnel in his head, waist and ankle. He still went on to serve in Saudi Arabia and Bosnia.
Grifino rode on a cruiser boat, which he said was refreshing and luxurious, but he was excited to experience a powerboat ride. He also checked out the antique cars. His father had a 1953 Mercury, but it was not a convertible, like the one on display.
“It is very humanistic and very nice to show appreciation for the military personnel. I would hope to come back (next year),” said Grifino, 70, who was making his first visit in three years.
Last year, Geico Insurance Co. brought a cruiser boat to take veterans for a ride, but this year, its only powerboat is racing.
Races start at noon today and stretch from Steel Pier at the northern end to front of the Tropicana Atlantic City at the southern end. Forty teams will compete. The smaller boats go first at noon, and larger boats go at 2 p.m. The smaller boats will do five laps, while the larger boats will race for 12 laps, Patnaude said.
Miss Geico Racing, an eight-time world champion, is defending its Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix Title from last year.
“Everybody is excited to be here. It’s a water community,” said Marc Granet, driver for Miss Geico Racing. “The casinos are one component of the town.”