CLEARWATER — It's a boat, it's a plane.
Actually, it's Super Boat, this weekend's "NASCAR on water," a national championship racing event where some of the fastest and mightiest offshore power boats in the world skim across gulf waters at speeds up to 200 mph.
The Sunday heats, slated for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., feature dozens of boats propelled by turbine engines and equipped with F-16 canopies, which protect the two-man teams should a disaster occur.
But the muscle boat competitions are just part — albeit a pretty big portion — of the three-day Bright House 2010 Clearwater Super Boat National Championship Festival, which kicks off Friday.
A splash of new parties and activities at Clearwater Beach, Coachman Park and downtown Cleveland Street will make this event even "bigger, better and louder," officials predict.
That is unless Mother Nature puts a damper on things.
Tuesday, as tropical systems brewed in the Caribbean, Frank Chivas, who co-founded the event with former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, was busy watching weather reports and fielding calls from concerned participants. The race teams come from all over the United States, he said.
"We have done everything possible to make this event a thundering success, and we just hope there's no thunder," said Chivas, owner of Baystar Restaurant Group. "Last year, the good Lord blessed us with the best day of the year, and we're hoping he'll do the same thing again."
Last year's inaugural boat fest drew tens of thousands of race fans who watched from Clearwater Beach and beachfront hotel rooms and restaurants. Others observed the race offshore, where about 2,500 boats anchored in a line that stretched for 3 miles.
The economic impact from last year's event has been estimated at somewhere between $5 million and $6 million, race officials said.
This year, the 5.3-mile loop course has been altered to allow better viewing for beachgoers. It now stretches from the Hyatt Regency on the south beach to the north side of Clearwater Beach past Sandpearl Resort.
While the race and activities are free, fans may have a better vantage point from decks at the Hyatt and Hilton or the end of Pier 60.
They'll have to purchase VIP passes through the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce or the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce to do so. Pass holders also will be privy to a variety of VIP race activities and parties. The cost is $100 per person; $25 for children 16 and younger.
Proceeds benefit three local charities: The Clearwater Community Sailing Center, Sailability and the Make a Difference Fishing Tournament, which takes place Saturday.
This year, Super Boat International, the producer of the event, has partnered with the Offshore Super Series.
"They've joined forces to crown a national champion," said Diane Stein, on the event's public relations team. "They've been racing all season to get to this point."
The total purse is $75,000.
Consider parking at the many public garages around the Cleveland Street district and taking the Jolley Trolley, which makes continuous loops Saturday and Sunday. Pickup will be from the west side of Osceola Avenue, across from the Laura Street intersection.
The Jolley Trolley also will stop at the downtown garages on its rounds back to the beach, heading south on Osceola. Cost is $1.
Also Ambassador Limo will have a 47-passenger bus running between Coachman Park and Pier 60 between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. until Sunday afternoon. Cost: $1.
"We hope for everybody to come out and have some good family fun on the Gulf of Mexico," Chivas said. "There's no oil here; just speed."