The emerald waters and white sands of the Northern Gulf Coast are normally a tranquil vacation spot except for one week in late August when a “Who’s Who” of powerboat racing storms onto the coast. The growl of high-octane engines screaming just a Frisbee’s throw offshore builds unparalleled energy and excitement for race fans lined on beaches, and in spectator boats and private beachside condo balconies. After a decade of racing, Thunder on the Gulf has become one of the top powerboat racing events in the U.S. and this year will be no exception.
Held over a long weekend August 21-24, the event has expanded to include racing in both Orange Beach, Alabama, and nearby Pensacola, Florida,—now billed the Flora-Bama Shootout Grand Prix Championship. The legendary Flora-Bama bar straddling the line between the two states is famous for their mullet toss and is hosting the kick-off party on Thursday, August 21st. John Carbonell of Key West is the premier race official and Super Boat International is the sanctioning body for this race weekend, which is listed as a top event by the Southeast Tourism Society.
With race villages and wet pits set up in each location, race fans can tour these monster super-boats in a festive atmosphere the day before the races, which run Friday the 22nd in Orange Beach and Sunday the 24th off Pensacola’s historic downtown waterfront at the Plaza de Luna.
Billed as an entire race week experience, food and live music will be featured at each event site, including the Marshall Tucker Band at the Wharf in Orange Beach. There will also be a golf tournament, the well-attended Thunder Motorcycle Run, an offshore fishing tournament, and two bikini contests. A massive street party, boat parade and fireworks display on Palafox Street and the adjacent pier follow the final awards ceremony in Pensacola. All events are staggered and timed to chase the race boats as they transition from Alabama to the Florida Panhandle. VIP packages are available.
Depending on your taste and energy level, there is something for all race fans whether you don’t want to miss a minute of the onshore and offshore events in both cities or would simply prefer to set up your beach chairs with a cooler along the 6.5-mile liquid racecourse in Orange Beach. For those who are new to superboat racing, this is a perfect time to book your family vacation and delight the kids with this NASCAR-type event on the water. thunderonthegulf.com
By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating August 2014