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Commentary: If You Build It

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This month, we were fortunate to attend two Northeast performance boating events in two weeks. The first, the National Powerboat Association’s New York City Poker Run—dormant for four years—showed a bit of hope for the future as a truly high-quality fleet turned out for the resurrected event.

What the event lacked in quantity—back in the day fleets of more than 150 boats packed the Hudson River two deep from shore to shore—it made up for in eye-catching quality. More than 30 extraordinary high-end cats and V-bottoms gave notice that the sport may be re-emerging as a viable nationwide series, either because of or in spite of local economic conditions. The weather sparkled, the boats were spectacular as they ran on the Hudson and NPBA’s Billy Frenz and his team are certainly on to something. We came away thinking that there was at least some hope spinning around us.

And then came Atlantic City! New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club president Dave Patnaude, who somehow can be at three places simultaneously, and his army of volunteers not only gave us a taste of the past, they turned back the clock.

Arguably, the last truly world-class event preceding the slow, fractious and depleting downward spiral that offshore powerboat racing has been in for the past quarter century were the Trump World Championships in Atlantic City in 1989. Not since that race have we seen the international fleet gather by the dozens to take on an equal-size armada of the best the United States had to offer. Classes of 25 boats and more waged war in the waters of the Atlantic. Never since that race have I sensed true progress or a reversal of the sometimes-tragic negative trajectory of the sport—until now.

Somehow Patnaude, the NJPPC faithful and the Offshore Powerboat Association’s “Jersey Boyz” mixed poker run marvels, a rejuvenated racing contingent, a car show, the former Trump Marina reborn as the impressive Golden Nugget, world-class parties, the top U.S. teams in the sport and a wine tasting festival into a potent concoction that for a moment gave you a sense that the magic is still out there on the high seas. Sure, the fleet count was a fraction of what it was in the glory days, but for a change you could picture these quality-based seeds sprouting and growing a brand new racing vineyard whose best vintages may yet lay in the years to come.

Whether it was the enthusiasm, hospitality and veteran talent of folks like Jason Saris and Art Lilly or the cockeyed exuberance of the newcomers to the sport, something changed dramatically this weekend. From my perch we finally have a shot at bringing back at least a taste of the big glamorous fleets and with that will come new colorful characters and a return to true racing in the hardware and the skill sets. Some years back, Smitty, Augie Pensa, and a bunch of other “Jersey Boyz” with more enthusiasm than common sense had a dream. Well Boyz, you’re wide awake now and beginning to see what that dream looks like in real life.

Congratulations to all on a truly world-class event and keep on dreaming, for it has been said that if you build it and they will come.

I know I will.

(Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.)

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