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Racing couple will provide thrills in the Bradenton Area River Regatta

East Manatee County husband-wife team prepare for Bradenton Area River Regatta.

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East County's Mike and Emma Quindazzi both grew up with racing in their blood.

Sometimes that blood pumps faster than others.

Emma acts as her husband's spotter during powerboat races, such as the upcoming Bradenton Area River Regatta on Feb. 12.

Being a spotter is critical in a sport where the drivers hit top speeds of 120 to 130 miles per hour. As Mike said, "You have loose control, … but it is control."

With every decision needed to be made in a split second, a driver relies on his spotter to tell him what danger lurks all around him. Such a responsibility makes Emma a big part of each event, and helps her experience the racing excitement she craves.

But during a race last year on the Ohio River in New Martinsville, West Virginia, Emma had a little more excitement than she wanted.

Mike was racing a new boat and he was trying to get a little extra speed.

"Everybody is on the edge," Mike said. "You have to know where that edge is."

As he picked up the extra speed, the front of his boat began to rise. Emma remembered what she told him.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no, it's going to go," Emma said into her husband's earphone.

And it went.

Mike's boat blew over.

"Most of the time, these float upside down," Mike said of when they blow over. "They are all carbon fiber."

Before Mike and Emma decided to pursue F1 racing in 2019, they dominated at other levels of power boat racing that Mike calls "open top" racing. That domination included a Sprint Nationals championship in 2018 and a Classic Outboard Runabout national title in 2013. They had homes in Huntington Beach, California and Parker, Arizona to be near powerboat venues.

But concerned about safety, they decided to move to F1 racing, where the boats have a cover over the cockpit.

The race in New Martinsville was a test of that theory.

Fortunately, the cover blew off the cockpit before Mike landed upside down in the water.

"You relax, cross your arms and everything gets quiet," Mike said of the moment when air lifts the boat off the water and sends the front up over the back. "Then you hear a big boom (the boat hitting the water) and you let go of the wheel."

The F1 boats are equipped with air regulators but drivers don't grab for those if they feel they can get out immediately.

East County's Mike Quindazzi competes in the 2021 F1 Nationals in Springfield, Ohio. Courtesy photo.
East County's Mike Quindazzi competes in the 2021 F1 Nationals in Springfield, Ohio. Courtesy photo.

"You have that six-point harness you are in, and it operates with a pull strap," Mike said. "But you are hanging in it (upside down in the water), so it is tight. You have to thrust your body."

After thrusting his body, Mike came loose. He said the next thing to remember is to swim downward.

With everything lasting about 20 seconds, he was safe.

The training sessions he takes as part of the powerboat tours prepare him for such a moment. While such instruction is required every two years, he takes it whenever he goes to an event that is set up for such training.

"Boating is inherently dangerous," he said.

But it does run in his blood. His late father, also Mike Quindazzi, was a multiple national champion in "open-top boats." His dad set an American Power Boat Association "Mod VP" record on a 1.25-mile course at 68.524 mph in 1983. 

East County's Emma and Mike Quindazzi decided F1 racing would be safer than some of the other powerboat levels.
East County's Emma and Mike Quindazzi decided F1 racing would be safer than some of the other powerboat levels.

The younger Quindazzi decided to pursue motorcycle racing instead, a pursuit that eventually led to him meeting his wife, who also enjoys riding motorcycles, during a trip to Europe for a Ducati Motorcycle Tour. Emma's father built sailboats in England and she enjoyed yacht racing. Also, like her husband, she is in the software development business.

"Boats are my soul," Emma said. "Without racing, I wouldn't be happy. I love it."

After they got married, they decided to race powerboats in 2011. Mike found that many of the competitors who had raced against his dad were still racing, or their family members were racing. The Parker Enduro was a classic race on the Colorado River, that had been held since 1963. They both enjoyed the camaraderie of racing.

But safety became the deciding factor when they went to F1 racing.

F1 racing matches boats with a "tunnel" hull that incorporates two planing hulls and a solid center that traps air. The design creates an aerodynamic lift that promotes higher speeds.

The switch in class led them to the Bradenton Area River Regatta and they not only loved the race, they loved the region.

"It was gorgeous and lush here," Mike said.

Powerboat racing is popular in Florida so the Quindazzis moved, buying a home in February of 2019 between State Roads 70 and 64, east of Lakewood Ranch. Mike built a large workshop where he spends much of his time crafting parts for his boats. 

While the Bradenton Area Regatta wasn't the only reason they moved, it was a main reason.

East County's Mike Quindazzi
East County's Mike Quindazzi

"Bradenton gives the fans a unique viewing opportunity," Mike said. "The spectators can look down on the race (from the Green Bridge). It's a flat, circle course, and a tight course. It can get rough. But a lot of races go out 3-4 miles and you can't see them. This is a 7/8ths mile course and you can get a great view from the bridge or the (Bradenton) Riverwalk."

The course keeps the boats close together, which can make for exciting racing. 

"Half a boat length can make the difference between winning and losing," Mike said.

Mike Fetchko, the president of ISM-USA, which organizes the race, said that brand of exciting action drew 110,000 fans in 2020. The 2021 race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like the Quindazzis, Fetchko came to the area due the race and fell in love with the region as well. He moved to Esplanade in Lakewood Ranch in 2014.

Fetchko said the Manatee River was perfect for a powerboat race.

"I fell in love with the course," he said. "I had worked with powerboats, and this (venue) was perfect."

The Quindazzis, who have two sons in 8-year-old William and 5-year-old Spencer, will like the course even better if they can place highly.

"We were dominant (in other classes of powerboat racing), and now we're getting our butts handed to us," Mike said. "But we also like the competition and the history of the sport."

Emma listed a few other reasons they love he world of racing.

"We have a racing family, so we like the beers at the end of the day, and we like the barbecues and the cookouts."

Mike was smiling, but he had plenty of work to do on his boats.

"Competing is fun, but as he said, "We're there to win."