April 23, 2005, Panama City, FL – When Hunter Rowell, a boat owner and employee of Ink Trax Screenprinting, saw the logo he was printing on a order for 1000 tee shirts, he pulled a shirt off the press and looked at it a little closer. A bright yellow and black race boat appeared to be launching off a wave…right off the back of the shirt. Thunder on St. Andrews Bay - Offshore Powerboat Race – Panama City - “this is cool” he told a fellow worker.

The next day, a middle age, bald headed man came to the Ink Trax plant on Back Beach Road and started loading boxes of the finished “Thunder” shirts into the back of his SUV. It was break time, so Rowell headed out to find out more about the cool shirts he had worked on the day before. By the time his break was over, Rowell had volunteered his 18-foot runabout to be a sweep boat for the offshore powerboat races being held May 21 & 22 at Panama City’s St. Andrews Marina.

According to Ken Doyle, Event Chairman for Thunder on St. Andrews Bay, that’s they way they get most of the 20-30 volunteer boat owners who help put on the races. “It’s a great opportunity for boaters to be a part of the race” according to Doyle, “ We use volunteer boats to patrol the perimeter of the racecourse and make sure nobody wanders into the middle of a race”. The volunteer boats are there to advise and monitor, not enforce the restricted area encompassing the racecourse. If a maverick boat operator does not heed the instructions of a sweep boat, a law-enforcement boat is called in to take over. It’s an easy assignment, with a great view of the races.

Runabouts, which are used as sweep boats, are just one type of boat manned by volunteer boaters at the races. Center console boats are needed to transport safety divers and medics to the scene of an accident, should one occur. Pontoon boats are also needed to provide a stable platform in case paramedics need to treat an injured racer while taking them to an ambulance on shore.

The most prestigious volunteer boat assignment goes to owners of go-fast boats that are normally seen at poker runs or setting at the docks of local restaurants with their engine hatches open. Their massive power plants can propel the boats to 100 miles per hour or more. They are the preferred choice to set the pace for the racers at the start of the race and wave the checkered flag as race winners cross the finish line.

What does it take to become a volunteer boat for the races? The number one rule that volunteer boat captains must be willing to follow is no alcohol on the boat during the race. According to Doyle, this primary rule eliminates most of the boat owners they would rather not have in the volunteer fleet. “We want responsible people who want to have a good time without jeopardizing the safety of others” said Doyle, “We invite all the volunteer crews to come to our racer parties and let their hair down after the day’s activities are over”. Each volunteer crew member is subject to taking a Breathalyzer test along with the racers on the morning of the race.

Boat owners who would like to join the volunteer fleet can pick up a volunteer application at the Panama City Marina, St. Andrews Marina, or Uncle Ernie’s Waterfront Grill on Bayview Drive. Volunteer forms can also be downloaded from the web at www.superboat.com and mailed or faxed to Race Headquarters.

For additional information about the races contact Thunder on St. Andrews Bay at 1-800-827-1580 or send an email to [email protected].