ATLANTIC CITY - Powerboat racing's version of NASCAR is coming to town in late June.
With the help of the Atlantic City Alliance, a marketing coalition that promotes tourism in the city, Golden Nugget Atlantic City and the cooperation of several other casino properties and other local businesses, the New Jersey Offshore Powerboat Racing Association will hold the Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix on June 21-23.
Race day will be June 23 with 40- to-50-foot powerboats going 150 mph or faster.
"We're very happy to be back in Atlantic City," NJOPRA president Toni Potthoff said Friday during a news conference at the Chart House restaurant in Golden Nugget. "We didn't have such good luck the last time we were here because Mother Nature closed us down. But we're very happy to be back again."
As long as the weather cooperates, the deafening roar of the world's top powerboats careening through the ocean will be heard on the Boardwalk for the first time in nearly 25 years, when Trump Castle, which is now Golden Nugget, staged the World Championships in October 1989.
The NJOPRA was scheduled to hold an event in Atlantic City on Sept. 19, 2010, but gusting winds and 20-foot seas forced officials to cancel the event. The event was not held last year because of the impending sale of Trump Marina to Golden Nugget.
"It was so strange because it was actually gorgeous weather except for the wind," NJOPRA event chairman and director Dave Patnaude said Friday. "But when you got out into the ocean, I saw some of the biggest skyscrapers I've ever seen in my life. That's one of the reasons we moved the event to late June, because the weather conditions should be much better."
Another reason was an effort to combine it with some of the other events that are happening in town around the same time. Two days after the Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix ends, the annual Thunder Over the Boardwalk air show and related events will be held June 25-26.
The two events are being touted as a "Festival of Speed" week by the Atlantic City Alliance as part of its "DoAC" marketing campaign.
"Our event will serve as the kickoff to what we hope will be an entire week of fun in Atlantic City," Patnaude said. "We're hoping that fans and even the race teams that come to our event will enjoy themselves so much that they will decided to stay and watch the air show on Wednesday."
A local tradition
Powerboat racing was once an important part of the local sports scene. In the late 1980s, Donald Trump brought the world's best and most popular racers to Atlantic City and hosted lavish parties both at his casino properties and aboard his yacht,"Trump Princess," that was docked in the Sen. Frank S. Farley State Marina adjacent to what is now the Golden Nugget. Actor Don Johnson stayed on the boat while competing in the World Championships in 1989. The late Al Copeland, founder of the Popeye's chicken franchise, used to compete in the Atlantic City races as well.
Trump, who also hosted major championship fights and the Tour de Trump bike race in Atlantic City during that time period, dropped out of the powerboat racing scene after 1989. The sport briefly returned to the city in 2003-04 but on a much smaller scale than the events planned for this year.
It was brought back this year with the help of Golden Nugget executive vice-president and general manager Tom Pohlman. Pohlman did not attend Friday's news conference.
"We are thrilled to have the offshore powerboat races coming back to Atlantic City," Pohlman said in a statement. "Race weekend will provide Atlantic City with a great opportunity to showcase all of the great things we have to offer outside of the casinos."
Patnaude indicated that almost all of the casino properties will be involved on some level, mainly because of the layout of the course, a 21/2-mile circuit that will stretch from the Atlantic Club to Revel.
This year's events will begin on June 21 with the completion of the Poker Run, a non-competitive journey from Toms River to Atlantic City in which 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 June 22, approximately 80 U.S. miltary veterans and their families will be taken for rides as part of the Wounded Warrior Project. In addition, there will be an exotic car show held at Golden Nugget.
On race day, approximately 30-40 boats will compete in various classes, including a half dozen in the Extreme category. That race could come down to a duel between Miss GEICO out of Jupiter, Fla. and Spirit of Qatar, which is 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.
"That will be a nice little bonus for one team," Patnaude said. "But most of these teams don't do this for the money. They race for the adrenaline rush and for bragging rights. But it's an incredible sport to watch. Some of these boats can reach over 160 miles an hour."
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