SARASOTA -- At roughly 4:45 p.m., after the sun had beaten down on Lido Key beachgoers for more than six hours on a scorching 94-degree day, more than 50 Jet Skis and WaveRunners and other personal watercrafts lined up near the southern tip of the key for the final race of the day.
It was the newest race and the main event for the final day of the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix on Sunday, so the beaches were still swarmed by an Independence Day weekend crowd.
There was a bit of complacency from the crowds about the previous few races after a day of boats shooting across the water. The P1 Aqua X final finally drew them out to the shoreline and out of their chairs. Dozens of the watercrafts fired off from the starting spot and up the coast like a stampede, disappearing into the clouds of wake.
"They put on a show," said
Marin Sanborn, the director of North American operations for Powerboat.
Nearly an hour after Aqua X began its display, Sanborn welcomed nine racers to the podium -- three for the 200, 250 and 300 brake horsepower classes -- as the first Aqua X medalists in the history of the Sarasota Grand Prix and he chose to honor them first for the historic nature of their accomplishments.
Travis Zielasko in the 200, a three-time champion already this year, Brian Baldwin in the 250 and 17-year-old Aqsa Aswar in the 300 were able to make history as the Sunday champions.
"It's pretty cool," said Aswar, whose brother, Aero, finished third in 300. "It feels like I'm special."
For 30 years, the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix made due without Aqua X and this year the addition only provided an extra boost of enthusiasm. Jason Russo, a Bradenton resident and owner of Russo Marine Service, had a chance to show off his part of the country to a new class of competitors, which includes dozens of racers from Great Britain.
"It was really good. A lot of people watching," Aswar said. "The waves are big, rough. It's a little tough out there."
Shaun Torrente, a Miami native and Cape Coral resident, was the throttleman for the cat lite champion Smart Marine on Sunday. Usually an F1 Powerboat World Championship racer, Torrente had never competed in the offshore powerboat racing Sarasota Grand Prix but had attended the races a few times as a spectator.
On Friday night, he was in the throes of a block party he estimates had more than 50,000 guests.
Two days later he was a champion only a few hours from his home instead of across an ocean and time zones away.
"My closest race had been Portugal," Torrente said.
The Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix for him provided familiarity like it does for so many others who spend the weekend partying with friends on the beach. He was inundated with messages from friends excited to watch him race during their usual Grand Prix weekend.
One other boat with Sarasota and Bradenton ties netted a first place finish with Watt-Ahh winning the pro-am 1. Knot Crazy claimed gold in pro-am 2. Phantom, Sailor Jerry and Outerlimits were the weekend's other winners in the cat lite, super cat and super vee races, respectively.
And for two days, thousands spent their holiday weekend watching them.
"The people just really love it," Torrente said, "and that's great."