Formula 2 power boat organizers reconfigure 'fan-friendly' course on Manatee River

Formula 2 power boat organizers reconfigure 'fan friendly' race course with long straightaway for Riverwalk viewers

myoung@bradenton.comApril 25, 2014 

BRADENTON -- More planning is needed, but with the president of the Powerboat Super League at Riverwalk on Thursday, a better conceptual plan for the Formula 2 powerboat races next year is taking shape.

Samuel Winer started the series 27 years ago, and his first look at the proposed racing course on the Manatee River between the Green and railroad bridges prompted him to say, "This is one of the best venues I've ever seen."

Looking out at the river near the day dock just east of the Green Bridge, Winer quickly sketched out a significant change in the course, which had been proposed to be a four-turn paperclip style course with long, half-mile straightaways.

After viewing the potential for Riverwalk to be a key spectator location, Winer changed the proposed course layout to include a straightaway along the Riverwalk viewing area. The course would have three turns with competitors racing upward of 100 mph toward the railroad bridge, turning left toward the middle of the river, and turning again to bring them back to the starting area

near the day dock keeping them closer to shore than originally proposed.

Palmetto's Riverside Park will be the staging area and launching point for the boats, which will then idle their way across the river to the day dock area where they will line up for competition.

Mike Fetchko, Integrated Strategic Marketing president, said the location is ideal for television and will highlight Bradenton not only to the rest of the country but to European markets, which over the past two years has become a bigger source of tourism in the area.

BrightHouse Networks and RMG Sports will coordinate the production efforts. Cameras will record the race from Riverwalk and the Green Bridge, and the powerboats will all have onboard cameras showcasing Bradenton's jewel on the water.

Concerns about protecting manatees during the race have been raised by several individuals and groups. Winer said the tunnel boats only break the surface about 6 inches at top speeds, "and depending how rough the water is, spend a lot of time on top of or out of the water."

David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, said the race will have to be permitted by multiple state and federal agencies.

"The last thing anyone wants is to have an issue," said Gustafson. "I've permitted through these agencies for 20 years, so I know every consideration will be taken into account. I have to sleep at night. This is my community, and every precaution will be taken to protect all of the wildlife with as much care as we put into protecting the spectators."

Winer said he has a lot of experience and out 165 sanctioned events, including many in Florida where manatees were present, "There has never been a single incident of a racing boat hitting a manatee."

If the eastern lanes of Green Bridge is closed as proposed, a 5K race is planned for runners to cross the bridge. It will be promoted to attract as many as 2,000 participants. Fetcko said the race could raise up to $25,000, and all of the proceeds would go to a local wildlife charity.

"My wife Sherron and I are both environmentalists," said Winer. "We will do everything that is needed to be done through the permitting process and there have been times where we have hired our own biologist to make sure we didn't miss anything. There's room for everything if it's done properly, and we will do everything properly."

The 2015 race will be the only race in Florida for the year, but the goal is to make it a continued stop on the tour.

"The goal this year is to begin a process that will keep this event coming here for many years to come," said Fetchko.

Winer said Riverwalk is too beautiful of an area not to do just that.

"This place is so beautiful, you almost have to do something like this," he said.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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