Despite concerns about parking, or lack thereof, the inaugural Gulfport Grand Prix powerboat racing bonanza on April 29 to 30 has been deemed a success. Race organizers estimate that the high-speed action and accompanying boat show drew 12,000 people on Saturday, May 29, and another 14,000 on Sunday, May 30.
“I thought it was an amazing event for Gulfport,” said O’Maddy’s owner Joe Guenther, who served as food and beverage director of the event. “It brought a lot of new people to the area. I talked to a lot of people who were like, ‘Wow, we didn’t even know this all existed down here.’ A lot of people also visited the local restaurants and shops and had a great experience in Gulfport.”
The marquee Formula 1 division was won by a local competitor, Rob Rinker of Tampa. In the Formula Light division, Jared Wallach Redondo Beach, California, took the title, while the Tri-Hull division was won by Jerry Rinker of Houston, Texas.
Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson acknowledged that parking could have been an issue if the event, which offered free admission throughout the entire weekend (except for the VIP area), had attracted as many people as the organizers were hoping for.
“The only reason parking wasn’t a huge problem is that turnout was much lower than we anticipated,” he said.
However, Guenther said that he and the other race organizers are pleased with the turnout.
“For a first year, inaugural event, we are very happy. And as a business owner who owns two businesses in downtown Gulfport, we did phenomenal. It was great exposure for the city of Gulfport.”
Henderson also offered praise for the planning, management and results of the Grand Prix.
“Considering it was a first-time event of that scale, they did a great job,” he said. “I appreciated their attention to detail in terms of public safety and respect for marine life. There’s no contract to stage the race again – it was a one-shot deal – but if they feel like it was successful and want to do it again, we’re open to having that discussion.”
Ward 4 city councilmember Michael Fridovich attended the Grand Prix and had a similar reaction.
“It went very well, and I thought it was well received,” he said. “The city did a phenomenal job getting the place ready and then cleaned up afterward. It brought thousands of people to Gulfport. It was a real coup for a city of our size to get a race like that here – a win-win situation. I heard there were some parking issues, but considering it was the first time having this event, it’s all about working out the bugs for next time, if we get it.”