WEEKI WACHEE — As a sport, underwater scooter racing could hardly be compared to NASCAR. In fact, competitors only reach top speeds of about 5 mph.
But if you love scuba diving as much as Joe Weatherby does, it's the ultimate thrill.
Two years ago, Weatherby formed the Wreck Racing League, the first sanctioning body devoted to organized competition for diver propulsion vehicles, also known as DPVs. This weekend, the league will play host to the Weeki Wachee Warrior Challenge at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
About 50 divers are expected to compete in the three-day event, which begins today. According to Weatherby, the races will be run on an oval course in the spring and will include four different classes of DPVs.
"We're very excited because this is our first-ever freshwater event," Weatherby said. "And it's such a great venue for this kind of sport because people can watch it live from the mermaid theater."
For the uninitiated, DPVs are motorized devices that pull divers through the water by way of a propeller. Powered by batteries, the machines are rated by the amount of thrust they create in the water.
Weatherby, who helped spearhead the 2009 sinking of the Vandenberg as an artificial reef off Key West, organized the first DPV race around the sunken wreck in June of last year to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the event. About 10 competitors showed up.
Afterward, Weatherby and his partner, Dave Sirak, organized the Wreck Racing League and Formula H20, established safety rules and set regulations for DPVs.
In a little more than a year, the league has held 10 races, most of which are in Florida.
This weekend's event in Weeki Wachee has the distinction of being associated with several wounded warrior groups, including Divers 9Line, Divers4Heroes, Freedom Divers, Hope for the Warriors, and Special Operations Forces Wounded Warriors, as well as the International Association of Handicapped Divers. Proceeds from the event will benefit those groups.
In addition to the DPV races, the event will feature underwater product demonstrations, dive demonstrations and lectures. The races will be run between the park's regular mermaid performances.
All events are open to public with regular park admission prices: Adults: $13 Child Age 6-12: $8 Children Five and under are free. For information, call (352) 592-5656.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]