Gulfport-area residents will be able to view thrilling Formula Powerboat Racing on Boca Ciega Bay on April 29 and 30 when the inaugural Gulfport Grand Prix comes to town.
Multiple Formula Powerboat Racing classes, including nimble Formula Lights and the bump-and-grind Tri-Hulls, will compete; some are capable of speeds approaching 120 mph.
Plenty of action will take place on shore as well, with downtown Gulfport along Shore and Beach boulevards featuring a classic and custom boat show, and food and drink vendors throughout the weekend. Prior to launching, some of the raceboats will be on display at the Gulfport Recreation Center, allowing racing fans to get a closer look at the speed machines.
North American Speedboat Federation (NASF) is the sanctioning body for the event, which will be conducted by officials with the Southern Professional Outboard Racing Tour (SPORT). A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Michael J. Yakes Foundation, a Gulfport-based nonprofit organization that provides assistance to underprivileged children and seniors in the Gulfport area.
Co-organizer Bill Joule, who owns St. Pete Boat & RV Storage on 49th Street, has been racing boats since the early 1980s and says he is thrilled to be bringing the sport back to the area.
“They used to have races over at Lake Maggiore in the 1970s and 1980s, but the presence of a bald eagle caused it to be shut down,” he said. “It’s a unique event that hasn’t been done here for a long time. It’s also a new format, having a boat show and a boat race going on at the same time. So in between the races, people can go check out the boats and marine product vendors. It’s all open pit, too, so they can walk right up to the race boats and check everything out.”
Joule himself will be racing alongside more than 20 other top drivers in the sport, including Tim Seebold, Joule’s co-organizer of the Gulfport Grand Prix. Seebold’s father, Bill Seebold, is one of the winningest drivers in Formula One boat racing history and will be calling the action from an announcing station set up on Williams Pier.
The organizers hope for a robust turnout for the event, but admit that, despite a robust multimedia advertising campaign, they have no idea what to expect.
“We are guessing 4,000 to 5,000 on Friday; 10,000 to 15,000 on Saturday, and maybe 20,000 on Sunday,” Joule said. “There was a one-day Formula 2 race down in Bradenton that drew 30,000, they claimed. But being the first year for this new event, it’s hard to gauge.”
Local business owners have been extremely supportive, said Joule, particularly Joe Guenther of O’Maddy’s and Mike Burke of Fish Bar & Grille.
“Without them we wouldn’t be where we are,” Joule said. “Everybody wants it and is really excited about it. They’re going to do a lot of business that weekend. And it’s not just about that one weekend. A lot of these people are going to come back and visit Gulfport. We’re going to bring in people from other areas that might not normally come to Gulfport, and they’ll want to come back. It’ll be a great experience.”
Gulfport represents the first stop for the inaugural 2017 F1 Powerboat Championship 2017 Series, sponsored by NGK Spark Plugs Inc. and Seebold Sports. Other locations include Port Neches, Texas, May 6-7; Nashville, Tennessee, June 16-18; Trenton, Michigan, July 14-16; Detroit, August 26-27; and Orange, Texas, September 16-17. For those unable to attend the races in person, the action can be viewed on demand at motortrendondemand.com.
Admission to the Gulfport Grand Prix is free of charge. For $35 per day, attendees can watch the races from a VIP area featuring food and drinks catered by O’Maddy’s and Fish Bar & Grille.
For more information, call Bill Joule at 528-3838, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit gulfportgrandprix.com.