When it was time for Ryan Hunter-Reay to upgrade from the 36-foot boat he likes to take off the coast of Fort Lauderdale during his weekends off from IndyCar Series racing, he came to this area.
Yellowfin Inc., a boat manufacturer in Manatee County, built his 36-footer and he wanted them to build his next: a 42-foot Yellowfin with quad Mercury Marine 350-horsepower engines.
“They do a great job. Best lines of a boat in the water, I think,” Hunter-Reay said Thursday in Sarasota, where he was preparing for a Mercury Edge-sponsored event at Marina Jack. “Yellowfin does a fantastic job with that stuff. I’ve become a Yellowfin ambassador for that reason.”
The 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion will be at Marina Jack to meet fans, pose for photos and sign autographs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday as part of the first day of the Ultimate Free Boat Demo Event. The event is open to the public and there is no admission charge or purchase required to meet Hunter-Reay. The Free Boat Demo Event continues Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., but Hunter-Reay will not be in attendance.
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Hunter-Reay has been a boating enthusiast since his family moved from Dallas to Florida when he was young. An alumnus of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Hunter-Reay grew up fishing and diving, and he kept at it as he grew older. Any time he has a weekend free from racing, he says he will go out fishing. He used to compete in sailfish tournaments before the first of his three sons was born more than four years ago.
“I grew up on the water, and it’s become something that is a nice counter to the whole pressure-packed racing life,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a big part of what our family does on the off weekends.”
He has needed that escape this year during a season he admits has been frustrating. At the Indianapolis 500 in May, Hunter-Reay was third with 64 laps to go when his engine failed. At April’s Grand Prix of Long Beach in California, he was running second with 22 laps to go when an electrical issue ended his day.
“By now, we could’ve been on the podium four times,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ve been on it twice. There’s just been quite a bit of bad luck, but it happens sometimes. You’ve just got to keep rolling with it. The speed’s been there.”
So he will use the new boat to ease some of his frustrations with five races left in the season. Although he is outside the top 10 in the IndyCar Series points standings, he remains optimistic given how he has fared despite the issues and mishaps.
And though he likes to go fast — and this new boat can reach speeds of 70 mph — he doesn’t see racing boats in his future, although he would like to try it one day. Speed feels doubled out on the water, and even for Hunter-Reay that can be disconcerting.
“It seems pretty sketchy to me,” Hunter-Reay, “but I guess what I do for a living is kind of sketchy, as well.”