Someone like Craig Belfatto is the exact person Martin Sanborn had in mind a few years ago when he sold himself, first and foremost, and then many others in the powerboat community on a new organization featuring P1 Panther race boats—stock outboard-powered open-cockpit 28-footers that can be converted for pleasure use.
Sanborn was hoping the new Powerboat P1 SuperStock series, which was being introduced in both the United Kingdom and the United States, would attract boaters thanks to the competitive class structure with identical boats and the fact that it was moderately affordable. He was right, just ask Belfatto.
“Boating has been a passion of mine for the last 20 years,” said Belfatto, who owns a 36-foot Concept center console with twin outboards and has had other go-fast boats, including a Formula, a Fountain and an Ultimate Warlock. “But boat racing was never really affordable, it was almost like you had to be a millionaire to get into the sport. Now with P1, it’s more structured and affordable so the common man can get involved. The prize money is good, too, but the best part is that this is something I can do with my family.”
Belfatto’s wife Cynthia, a licensed captain with an affinity for sailboats and very little powerboating experience before she met Craig in 2010, drives alongside Craig in the No. 9 Team Livorsi boat. Still practically newlyweds—they got married in December—the couple from Apollo Beach, Fla., who co-own Island Marine Group said they had a blast in the first P1 SuperStock USA race of the season in Stuart, Fla., in April.
“It was intense racing with everyone out there, but it was a lot of fun,” said Cynthia, who proudly displays a sticker on the transom that reads: You have just been passed by a girl. “We learned a lot and we’ve been doing some testing to get ready for the next race.”
Craig said they’re going to try to push the boat a little harder at the next stop in Daytona Beach (June 15-16) in an attempt to improve on their last-place finish in Stuart.
“Boat racing is something that my wife and I have always wanted to do,” he said. “Cynthia is a fearless competitor who hates to come in second place, no matter what the sport or the activity. She never tells me to slow down, ever.”
That’s one thing Sanborn didn’t anticipate right away—the family involvement, which includes the Belfatto team, the husband-and-wife team of Gene and Paula Weeks and three father-and-son teams.
“We’ve always wanted this series to be about the fun…[not]just about the motorsports competition,” Sanborn said. “There’s not as much pressure to end up on the podium when everyone is here to have a good time. Craig and Cynthia are perfect examples. When they got out of their boat after each heat in Stuart, and I think they finished last in most of them, you couldn’t wipe the smile off their face.”
Even Gene Weeks, an accomplished offshore racer who competed from 1986 up until 2006, couldn’t believe how much fun he had. Of course it helped he was racing alongside his wife, Paula, who is more than qualified to drive being that she is a CDL-licensed road truck driver and can operate just about every piece of heavy equipment known to man.
“I told Martin that in my 20-plus years of racing that was probably the most fun I’ve had racing, and I’ve raced in four or five different classes,” said Weeks, who last summer returned to Florida after completing a two-year contract living and working in China project-managing the new Alpha Express line for the Cheoy Lee Shipyards factory. “It’s a real hoot—and it’s well-organized, well-run and fun.”
Weeks admits he and Paula decided to try out the series as a marketing opportunity for Cheoy Lee, the company they both work for stateside, hence the boat name CL-Alpha.com. But now they’re hooked, mainly because of the competition but also because the exposure the company’s website received from the first race was outstanding according to Weeks.
Weeks said he can’t wait for the race in Daytona Beach, and neither can fellow competitor Elijah Kingery, who started racing with his father, Bill, in 2012 and was hooked from the first race they did in St. Cloud, Fla.
“I thought we would do a little more arguing than what we currently do—I didn’t know how it would work really,” said Elijah, who also works alongside his dad at the family’s boat shop, Total Marine Performance in Radner, Ohio. “He knows what I’m going to be doing, and I know what he’s going to do. I think it plays out pretty well with both of us in the boat. Our goal is to keep the boat running well and win as much as possible.”
The Kingerys, who finished third in the Pier 57 boat in Stuart, are expecting some good competition in Daytona Beach, especially after one of the other father-and-son teams, Tom and Jason Morton, took first in the Team Morton Water boat.
“I give a lot of the credit to Mark Kowalski, who made a point of telling people how much fun he had racing with son, Cody, in the 2011 season,” said Sanborn, referring to the family atmosphere surrounding the series. “I think there are some obvious reasons why this sport would be appealing to a family and we hope to build on that as we grow the series regionally.”
With four more races on the schedule and a banquet coinciding with the Florida Powerboat Club’s Key West Poker Run in November, the 2013 P1 SuperStock USA season is shaping up to be a rewarding one for all involved.
Photos courtesy P1 SuperStock USA.
Former Powerboat editor Jason Johnson was an integral part of the magazine staff from 2005 through 2011, utilizing journalistic integrity and experience in and around performance boats to report on all aspects of the go-fast lifestyle. The award-winning writer resides in Southern California and is the executive editor and co-publisher of speedonthewater.com, and writes for Sportboat and Powerboating in Paradise magazines.