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Super Boats bring skill and speed to Clearwater Beach

CMS Motorsports will be one of the dozens of teams racing at this years Clearwater Super Boat National Championships scheduled for Sept. 23-25 on Clearwater Beach. 
The team is leading in the Super Boat Unlimited Class. Photo By: Rodrick Cox

CMS Motorsports will be one of the dozens of teams racing at this years Clearwater Super Boat National Championships scheduled for Sept. 23-25 on Clearwater Beach. The team is leading in the Super Boat Unlimited Class. Photo By: Rodrick Cox
Published Sep. 22, 2015

CLEARWATER BEACH

Johnny Tomlinson likes to let it hang loose.

"The trick is to run just off the water," said one of the most successful powerboat racers in the world. "You want to be free, but in control."

That fine line flying at 150 miles or more, barely skimming the surface, but not flipping — is what separates the winners from the losers in powerboat racing.

The great ones, and the mild-mannered Tomlinson can be counted among the legends of the sport, flirt with danger, and at times even death, but always bring it back. For there's an adage when it comes to powerboat racing that it doesn't matter how fast you go if you don't finish the race.

"I've gone over before and had my share of close calls," said Tomlinson, throttleman for the CMS Offshore Racing Team. "But the trick is to take it to the limit, but still be there at the end."

The adrenalin rush, a byproduct of all extreme sports, is why Tomlinson and other powerboat racers risk their lives week after week. It's also the reason why thousands of fans will line up on Clearwater Beach this weekend for the Super Boat National Championships.

"Clearwater is such a great venue for offshore racing and our teams really like coming here," said Rodrick Cox, spokesman for the Key West-based Super Boat International. "We are expecting a lot of big boats again this year and it should be a great race on Sunday."

More than two dozen of the world's fastest racing machines — some costing more than $1 million and capable of speeds in excess of 150 mph — will race on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty years ago, in the golden age of powerboat racing, competitors took off across blue water in open-cockpit boats. Today, the action is close to shore and the machines have more in common with fighter aircraft than your average weekend pleasure boat.

When it comes to the actual racing, the driver's job is to keep the boat on the right track. Some courses are easy — long straightaways with four turns. Others are more difficult — lefts, rights, rough and smooth water. But unlike auto racing, where a single driver controls both speed and steering, offshore racing is a team effort.

Boats don't have brakes. That's where the throttleman comes in. Speed up on the straightaway. Back off in the turns. It is a delicate balance, and a good throttleman is often the difference between winning and losing. The boat's owner usually drives while the throttleman is often a paid professional.

The sport raised its profile in the 1970s and '80s, thanks to the participation of high-profile movie stars. Powerboat racing has been called "NASCAR on the water," but unlike stock car racing where there is little visual difference among the body styles, powerboat races have traditionally featured boats of different lengths and styles.

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