Ruskin based, Sarasota speedboat champs eye world title

KEVIN BRADY PHOTO Daniel Racz, right, and Cylde Petty keep their 30-foot speedboat in Ruskin. While many races for their class of powerboat — P4 — are held in Florida, they also travel to Michigan and Ohio. With 26 race wins in all, the boat has four state championships (2013 through 2016) and two national championships (2014 and 2015).

By KEVIN BRADY

Strapped into a 615-horsepower, bullet-shaped speedboat that will take him from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds, Daniel Racz wasn’t thinking about the competition at the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix July 2.

“They are thinking about us,” Racz said.

Whatever the other teams were thinking it didn’t work; Racz and his co-pilot, Clyde Petty, rode Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel, 30-foot Phantom, to victory on the 4.7-mile course. Competitors are used to seeing Racz’s backside; Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel is currently ranked first in Florida and third in the nation by Super Boat International Productions, the main sanctioning body for professional offshore racing.

Next for the duo is the Clearwater Super Boat National Championships — Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 — an event they have won four years straight. Another win in Clearwater sets the table for speed boating’s brass ring: The Key West World Championships, Nov. 5 through 12. “We’ve had a couple of seconds (at the World Championships) but I think this could be the year,” Racz said.

Not a sport for the faint of heart, Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel had to steer around two pilots who were ejected from their boat during the Sarasota race. Racz stopped the boat with Petty diving into the water to help. One of the ejected pilots suffered a broken leg, a lucky escape.

“With about 120 boats in the (offshore) racing circuit throughout the country, there’s always a couple of deaths every year. The odds on walking away and not walking away are not good,” Petty said.

Speed boating is also not a sport for the faint of wallet. It costs at least $150,000 just to get a boat in the water with race day costs topping $6,000 for some events with gas ($5.50 a gallon for boats that burn more than 100 gallons on race day), transport and other fees. “Maybe I could afford to do one or two races on my own but we could not do it without our sponsors,” said Racz, a professional homebuilder. “My mom (a Sun City Center resident who Racz followed to South Shore from his native Michigan) says don’t use the word ‘lucky’ but we have been lucky and blessed. It takes constant money to be able to do this.”

It helps that Petty, 36, is a seasoned engineer who has been building engines since he was 16.

“Daniel and I complement each other. We know what the other person is going to do before they do it,” said Petty who runs his own boat repair company, So. Flo Boatworks.

Up to 40 teams race five to seven times a year in the P-4 circuit. Usually held in Florida, the boats lap a 4- to 6-mile course 10 to 15 times, with a catch; no boat can exceed 80 mph. The trick is to finish the course, hairpin turns and all, in the fastest time without breaking 80 mph. Two GPS systems on each boat keeps everyone honest. “We don’t race the competitors — we race the GPS,” Racz said.

Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel Photo
Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel powers to victory at the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival July 2. The race headlines the festival that draws thousands to downtown Sarasota and Lido Beach. The event benefits Suncoast Charities for Children.

Once an obsession for hardcore speedboat enthusiasts run miles from the coastline, the sport moved closer to shore in the 1960s allowing spectators to take in the high-speed races. Today, 100,000-plus crowds enjoy the races although endure might be a better word for Elizabeth Couch.

“I have a lot of extreme emotions (watching the race); scared and anxious,” said Couch, Perry’s girlfriend. Still, she wouldn’t miss a race. “I won’t be left sitting there waiting for someone else to call and tell me something. I have to know what’s going on.”

“I’ve lost many friends (to crashes). It’s too long a list,” Racz said. Does the danger ever give him second thoughts? He pauses briefly but resumes his confident tone. “I guess that is our sickness because true racers, we just love the water. It’s exciting, dangerous yes, but I have done it so long I feel comfortable. I have someone else in the boat with me and I will err on the side of safety and I have stopped. I don’t want to take the boat off the bottom or death.”

For more information on Thee Dollhouse/Too Cruel, visit the team’s Facebook page, Too Cruel Offshore Racing or email miechka58@aol.com.

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