ATLANTIC CITY - Paul Baker and Tom Barnhart couldn't ignore the roar Sunday afternoon.
The 38-year-old residents of Hagerstown, Md., had come to Atlantic City for a getaway with their wives and kids. Once they learned that the Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix was happening, however, they made a bee line for Steel Pier to watch approximately 40 powerboats race across the ocean at speeds approaching 150 mph.
"I've always wanted to see a race, but it never worked out," Baker said. "We were just going to take the kids to the beach today, but when I saw a flier about the race, we took off for Steel Pier. We really got lucky."
Baker and Barnhart were among approximately 100 spectators who bypassed a ride on the Freedom Flyer, Slingshot, Sea Mour and other attractions at Steel Pier in favor of a prime viewing spot for the races at the Ocean Reef Bar & Grill at the end of the pier.
Other bystanders watched from pleasure boats in the ocean, some gawked from the shore, and still others watched while taking advantage of the warm sun and cool ocean breeze by taking a stroll on the Boardwalk.
Powerboat racing was back in town in a big way for the first time since 1989, when Donald Trump hosted the World Championships. There was also an event held in Atlantic City in 2003 but on a smaller scale.
"We were here to see the races about 10 years ago," Pittsburgh resident Ali Patterson said while watching the races at Steel Pier. "We really didn't know about this event until we got here, but as soon as we found out, we wanted to make sure we got to see it.
"We come to Atlantic City a lot. It's not just the casinos. I love the Boardwalk and everything else. This is my favorite section of the world, not just the country. It's like Disney World for adults. It's wonderful."
The group of spectators at Steel Pier ranged from casual fans to powerboat-racing enthusiasts to even some race crews.
Greg Amaral Jr. and Sr. and Steve Gardner made the trip from Jupiter, Fla., to help Franklinville's Howard Richardson prepare Twin Screws Racing for its competition in the Class 400 event.
"We actually bought a boat from Howard recently, so we wanted to do what we could to help him out this weekend," Amaral Jr. said. "This is our first time here and Atlantic City is a beautiful town. The venue for the races is great and the people couldn't have treated us any better. It's been nothing but fun and we're hoping to be back here racing ourselves next year."
Fans were treated to approximately 40 boats from nine classes competing in two races over water that grew choppier as the event wore on due to an increasing wind.
But at least they were able to race. The Atlantic City Grand Prix was supposed to be held three years ago but was canceled the day of the race because of dangerous ocean conditions.
Aside from a collision involving Pirate Racing and Wild Ride in the first race, Sunday's event went off without a hitch. Boats skimmed along the swells and even sailed over them on occasion while fans screamed and cheered.
"It was hard to tell from out on the ocean, but it looked there were a lot of spectators," said Eric Jacobs, driver for Country Service out of New City, N.Y. "The water was a little sloppy, but we've seen worse. We wound up having some issues that made us have to back off a little bit, but we still finished the race. I thought the whole event was great. I can't wait to come back."
Most of the attention in the second race was focused on Miss GEICO, a bright yellow boat boasting a pair of Mercury Racing 1,650 (horsepower) Turbo engines that was heavily favored to win the Extreme Class.
Driver Marc Granete, of Boca Raton, Fla., and Brick Township throttleman Scott Begovich helped the Jupiter, Fla.-based Miss GEICO storm to a 46-second lead over Cintron before a broken U-joint forced them to pull out of the race after seven of 12 laps.
"The water was a little rough, but that's what makes it fun," Granete said. "That's the reason we wanted to come back to Jersey. Jersey water is the challenge of all challenges because it's so unpredictable. The color of the water and sky can mask what's really there. You may think it's calm, but then your 50-foot boat is in the air."
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