Sam Winer stood on the patio at Pier 22 and finally the view of the Manatee River behind him was clear.
A year ago, the golf shirts and short-sleeve button-downs were replaced by jackets and raincoats for the press conference officially kicking off the Bradenton Area River Regatta. It was an ominous sign for the second running of the race, which eventually was doomed by the same sort of rainy and cold conditions that plagued Winer’s first stop in Manatee County of 2016.
When Winer, the co-owner of the Powerboat Superleague with his wife, Sherron, brought the league to Bradenton for the first time in 2015, he was rewarded with the largest crowd in Superleague history.
“I think we should have a race today,” Winer said. “This would be the weather we would want.”
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The first race in 2015 also set the tone for a fledgling dynasty in Bradenton and Palmetto. Winer offered up a challenge.
“The question is,” he said, “Who can beat the Rinkers?”
Rob Rinker, a racer from Riverview, won the Bradenton River Regatta in 2015. Ashton Rinker, his brother, claimed the title in 2016 by leading the qualifying pack when weather forced the event to be canceled prior to the finals. Terry Rinker, the brothers’ father, finished second behind Ashton in 2016.
The challenge for the Rinkers on Feb. 4 will come in numbers. Winer expects about 15 boats in the Formula 2 field, which would make it the largest in about five years for the Superleague. Formula 2 is the premier event at the River Regatta, with engines that shoot racers from zero to 100 mph in roughly 4 1/2 seconds.
“It should be something to see,” Winer said.
The toughest challenge to the Rinkers’ reign could be St. Petersburg’s Tom Ludwig, who attended the press conference Thursday in Bradenton. Ludwig finished second behind Rob Rinker in 2015, and struggled with technical issues and the weather in 2016.
Ludwig’s day in 2016 began with he and his crew cycling through two or three starters until they found one that worked. The wet weather created electrical issues, and their kill switch malfunctioned. He said they were ready to run for the final before it was canceled.
“We’ve got a lot of competition that shows up,” Ludwig said. “A lot of local boys around here that are going to be hard to beat. It’s going to be a competitive day.”
Ludwig spotlighted the Rinkers, including Terry who has been retired and returned for the Regatta last year, plus Okeechobee’s Jeff Reno and Canadian Rusty Wyatt as racers who could make the field particularly cutthroat.
Bradenton will also once again hold the distinction of playing host to the first race of the Superleague SST 120 boats’ season. The tight track and typically flat conditions make it an eventful course with racers jostling for position with precision. If the weather is good, the crowded field could bring an end to a two-year dynasty.
“It’s a lot of fun. The track’s a lot of fun,” Ludwig said. “It starts our season off. What a fun way to start our season.”
Who: Powerboat SuperLeague Racing
When: Saturday, Feb. 4 (all day, land events begin 8 a.m.; racing begins at 10 a.m.)
Where: Manatee River, (activities in both Palmetto and Bradenton