Powerboat Races Help Promote Region, Boost Charity



As the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix revs up again, more than double the number of vessels prepare to take to the water as raced in 2018. With two race sanctioning organizations and two national networks planning to broadcast portions of the event later, a tremendous number of competitors will arrive in Sarasota, according to festival director Lucy Nicandri.

She says about 70 boats hit the water this year, compared to 30 last year.

“We’ve also stretched our race course to cover the entirety of Lido Beach, from Longboat Key Club south to where the Sandcastle Resort is,” she says.

The festivities officially launched last Saturday with a golf classic at The Meadows, followed by a boat and personal watercraft fun run at Marina Jack on Sunday. The connected “The Friendliest Catch” fishing tournament took place on Tuesday, and last night the Bayfront Grand Prix Festival Kickoff Party took place at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Of course, the festival will also put on a free fireworks show tonight at Island Park at 9pm.

“I look at it now as an iconic event,” Nicandri says. “It’s been around now for 35 years and we just want to put out a great event for the community.”

Things truly get going Friday with a Main Street block party and a car show and “Race The Racer” event Saturday. The official Powerboat Races themselves take place Sunday.

Both the Offshore Powerboat Association and Powerboat P1 in partnership will promote the race, one of six race sites for the 2019 Offshore Powerboat Association Offshore Championship Series. In August, CBS Sports and Fox Sports will air separate specials on the race, broadcasting to an estimated 65 million U.S. homes and 400 million households worldwide.

Within the racing community, Nicandri says the Sarasota event has developed a reputation as an Indy 500 on the water.

It all contributes to a critical summer event for Sarasota tourism.

“It’s very strong,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “They do surveys every year, that ask people, "Did you come for the races or are you just here for the Fourth of July?" and they always do well in terms of people who come here just for the races.”

Of course, for Nicandri, executive director for Suncoast Charities for Children, the most important part of the event will be the philanthropic support in the region. The event has always delivered all proceeds to the Sarasota organization, which supports five nonprofits locally. “A lot of people don’t realize the race was started as a fundraiser for charity and it continues to be,” she says. “We’re the only sanctioned race site run by a charity and one of the longest race sites still going.”

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