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Powerboats to invade bay area this fall

Powerboat racing promoters have overlooked Tampa as a racing venue _ until now. The world's fastest speedboats will roar across Hillsborough Bay the week after Thanksgiving and tunnel boats will navigate a course in the narrow channels just south of downtown this weekend.

The Offshore Professional Tour, which features the world's biggest and fastest racing boats, on Tuesday announced plans to bring its two-race world championship series to Tampa from Nov. 28 through Dec. 1. Actors Don Johnson of Miami Vice and Chuck Norris, star of the movie Missing In Action, are expected to compete.

"We're pretty sure Tampa is going to be a very, very fast course," said Lloyd Gootenberg, a throttleman on the 47-foot superboat, Lucky Strike. "I predict that at least for a few laps, you're going to see some records broken." Johnson set a single-lap speed record of 127.3 mph in his 50-foot superboat earlier this year.

The Tampa course will run from Davis Islands toward Bayshore Boulevard, past Ballast Point Pier and MacDill Air Force Base to Apollo Beach and back to Davis Islands.

"We have designed a course for the maximum number of spectators," said John Carbonell, executive director of the tour. "With the natural viewing stadium we have, Tampa is the most viewing of any race we have." He said he expects the race to attract 100,000 spectators.

This weekend, the American Power Boat Association is holding the premiere of the Tampa Challenge off Harbour Island. The event will feature two classes of tunnel boats, outboard crafts with enclosed cockpits designed for one person, in the final event of the association's season. The national championship and national points title are at stake.

The races will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on a one-mile course in the Garrison and Seddon channels between the Tampa Convention Center, Tampa General Hospital and Harbour Island. The SST140 boats are 18 feet long and can go as fast as 115 miles an hour, but can race in the tight confines of the channel near downtown because they are extremely maneuverable.