Speed Thrills


Power & Motor Yacht - - SIGHTLINES -

Ivividly re­mem­ber watch­ing the rooster tails streak across the hori­zon dur­ing the an­nual Bush­mills Grand Prix and Catalina off­shore races of the late 1960s and early ’70s. At over 60 miles per hour, those early off­shore race boats could make it around the is­land in less than hour. Wow, those boats were fast!

I was hooked on off­shore rac­ing and be­gan read­ing ev­ery boat­ing mag­a­zine I could get my hands on. I could name all the race boats such as Mona Lou, Black Tor­nado, Broad Jumper, Boss O’ Nova, and The Cig­a­rette and fol­lowed the ex­ploits of the top rac­ers like Sam Grif­fith, Dick Ber­tram, Don Aronow, and Bill Wish­nick. The best race boats of that time, in­clud­ing the Mag­nums, Donzis, Cig­a­rettes, and Ber­trams, were all from Florida, so I fol­lowed the lure of off­shore rac­ing, and even­tu­ally moved east­ward to Florida.

Along the way to be­com­ing a race-boat de­signer, I got to know many of my rac­ing heros, in­clud­ing Jim Wynne, Don Shead, Sonny Levi, Al­lan Brown, Bob Ma­goon, Odell Lewis, and Sammy James. In 1978, I met Don Aronow, which marked the start of a nine-year work­ing re­la­tion­ship and friend­ship that lasted up to the day of his mur­der.

With this love for the early days of off­shore, I pur­chased a 1969 31-foot Ber­tram Nau­tic race boat from my old friend Cadil­lac McDaniel back in 2010, with the in­ten­tion of restor­ing the boat to its orig­i­nal rac­ing con­di­tion. Af­ter ex­haus­tive In­ter­net re­search, I never fig­ured out which one of the orig­i­nal seven­teen Ber­tram race boats it was. As I chron­i­cled in my Sight­lines col­umn of May 2013, I even­tu­ally gave up the restora­tion.

In early 2014 my friend Nick was look­ing for a dis­trac­tion, so he bought the Ber­tram from me and trucked it back to Miami. Nick hired Mike Thomas of TNT Cus­tom Marine to oversee the restora­tion project and hired a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor to track down the boat’s ori­gin. Af­ter much re­search, in­clud­ing help from Sammy James, the for­mer head of Ber­tam Rac­ing, and Marco Ber­tini, from Italy, it was agreed that the boat was Vincenzo Balesteri’s race boat White Tor­nado.

Sammy James takes the wheel (right) of

What boat would take you back to your youth? Let Michael know


TNT subbed the boat out to Eddy Guardado and his crew for the fiber­glass and paint work and Chris Dilling repli­cated the orig­i­nal graph­ics, right down to the small­est de­tail. The boat was sent back to TNT, where chief rig­ger Gary Brinker in­stalled a stag­gered pair of Mer­cury 520-horse­power en­gines and Bravo XR drives. Nick re­searched ev­ery de­tail in­clud­ing fuel fills, ex­haust pipes, up­hol­stery and even Balesteri’s dash­board ash­tray.

On Oc­to­ber 28th of this year, Nick launched the fully re­stored White Tor­nado at TNT Marine in Miami, in front of all those that had worked on her,

huge sur­prise, Sammy James and his wife Patty pre­sented Nick with his 1960s-era rac­ing jer­sey. Sammy’s in­ter­est in the project had grown over time with Nick’s in­fec­tious pur­suit of per­fec­tion. As the en­gines started, the rum­ble of the straight ex­haust brought on a deep, vis­ceral re­ac­tion that is unique to mo­tor sports.

Johnny Tom­lin­son, co-owner of TNT and cur­rent Class I World Cham­pion, was the des­ig­nated driver and I was hon­ored to join Cadil­lac and Sammy James to take the first ride up the In­tra­coastal. JT took White Tor­nado up to the full speed of 77 mph, and Sammy con­firmed that was as fast as her rac­ing days. Then Caddy and I asked Sammy if he wanted to drive. A bit reluc­tantly, Sammy, at the age of 77, slid over to the driver’s bol­ster and took the wheel. I could see a trans­for­ma­tion in his face, his eyes, as he gripped the throt­tle. The years peeled away as the speed in­creased, and Sammy got her up to top speed. Those of us in the boat, at that mo­ment, were more thrilled about watch­ing Sammy run White Tor­nado through her paces, than the boat it­self.

From that mo­ment on, we couldn’t pry Sammy’s fin­gers off the steer­ing wheel. Watch­ing White Tor­nado on the same wa­ters where she was born made me feel like I was go­ing back in time, to when I first fell in love with off­shore rac­ing. With Sammy James at the wheel of that old Ber­tram race boat, it was like see­ing Phil Hill run­ning a vin­tage Fer­rarri GTO at Se­bring again. Who says you can’t go back in time?

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