A family tradition that's kept up to speed

Powerboats: For years, the Augustines have found water, racing and togetherness a winning combination.


In Anne Arundel County

August 31, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was 1959 when the picture of a boat in Popular Mechanics magazine helped change the life of Maryland City resident Dave Augustine Sr.

Augustine, then in his early 20s, and his father spent a weekend building the wooden boat in the photo. Then they built a couple more. And, that eventually whetted both men's interest in powerboat racing.

Now, 46 years later, the Augustine name is known almost anywhere powerboats race in the United States.

Various members of the Augustine family - including Dave Sr., his brother Gary and their sons - religiously find their way to compete in American Power Boat Association events all around the country. An Augustine daughter has raced, too, and the Augustines have gotten friends and neighbors into racing.

"It's a hobby," said the Dave Sr., who is 68 and retired. "You can't make money at it; you just spend money. I'm an older guy, and all of my friends are younger because I compete with them and against them. It keeps me young, too."

Powerboat racing has been around for at least 100 years, according to the APBA's Web site. The APBA is the only authority for approved powerboat racing in the United States, and it has 13 racing categories, defined by whether the engine is built into the craft or added to the boat (outboard racing), along with a variety of hull configurations. Racers can compete throughout about nine months of the year, with many of the events at East Coast venues, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Augustine said a person could get into the sport for about $5,000. Competitors race in three categories - stock (boats right out of the showroom), modified (same boats, souped up), or the pro division, where Dave Augustine Jr. goes regularly. All the Augustines compete with outboard hydroplanes, boats designed specifically for racing but that are smaller and less powerful than inboard craft.

The pro division has the fastest outboard boats - methanol-fueled 13-footers that skim the water as fast as 105 mph. Race courses on broad rivers, lakes or bays are oval-shaped, typically requiring racers to complete three or four laps for a total of four to five miles.

In different combinations, the Augustine family generally is represented in events almost every weekend somewhere from Florida to New York, and sometimes way beyond. Long drives to race are the rule rather than the exception, but it's a price the Augustines don't mind paying.

Dave Augustine Jr., who lives in Pasadena and works for NASA, said that a three- to five-hour drive "is nothing," and he's accustomed to being on the road for 10 to 12 hours on a Friday night to get to a weekend racing venue.

Getting home in time for work on Monday can be grueling - "usually just in time to take a shower," he said. "We're not doing this for the money. We're doing it because we enjoy it. We're there to have fun."

He recalled one wild month during which family members competed in events in upstate New York, Illinois, North Carolina and Arkansas. This weekend, they'll be at a favorite venue, Lock Haven, Pa., where racing is so popular, stands for fans have been built along the Susquehanna River.

Being on the road, the Augustines say, is just another way to see the many friends they've made over the years.

"I enjoy being with my family; that's the important thing," said Pat Augustine, Dave Sr.'s wife. "Also, we have friends across the United States and overseas that we've met and keep in touch with because of racing. It's like an extended family."

Pat Augustine is a retired research scientist, as well as a former racer. She jokingly calls herself "the checkbook," and still goes on 95 percent of the family's trips. Powerboat racing also has a different meaning for her.

"It's one of the factors that kept our kids out of trouble," she said. "They really didn't have time." Dave Jr. was taken to his first race when he was 10 months old. He competed in his first race at age 9.

Younger brother Sean, who lives in Edgewater, stayed away from racing at first, opting for youth football and basketball. He was about 20, he said, when he raced for the first time.

"When you take that first ride, you really get hooked," he said. He races in the stock class, like his father, who still works hard at his weekend craft.

Dave Sr. said that he and the family pulled back from the sport during the 1980s, when the boys were younger, but got cranked up again in 1989.

Sean Augustine also said that traveling and racing are things the entire family enjoys.

"I'm 36 years old," he said, "and I still get to spend a lot of weekends with my dad and my family. There's not too many sports where you can do that."

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