In the early 1990s, the Keys had a full slate of powerboat races, with competitions in waters off Key West, Marathon and Islamorada. This year, the islands will be back up to two competitions after several years of having just one.
On Fourth of July weekend, Super Boat International is bringing back the Marathon Super Boat Grand Prix, the first time since 2009 the Middle Keys have hosted races. It joins Super Boat International's world championship in November in Key West.
Race producer John Carbonell says it will be like the "olden days," when powerboat races based at the old Faro Blanco Marine Resort drew big crowds and celebrities, and were an economic boom for businesses.
"There was an opening for the Fourth of July race and the people from the hotels wanted to bring the races back," Carbonell said. "There should be 20 to 25 boats in Marathon, the big ones. They can get up to 150 mph."
The marina behind the Hyatt Place Faro Blanco Marine Resort & Yacht Club in Marathon, 1996 Overseas Highway, will serve as headquarters.
The wet pits, the docks where the public can check out the boats for free, are open from noon to 4 p.m. July 4 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 5. July 5 is race day, with races at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. along the bayside from the Tranquility Bay Resort at mile marker 48.5 out to the Seven Mile Bridge and finishing at the Hyatt.
Seven classes of races will be held: Superboat, Superboat Unlimited, Superboat Extreme, Superboat Vee, Superboat Stock and Production 3 and 4.
The last attempt to bring powerboat races to Marathon was in September 2013 by Powerboat P1 USA. The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association protested, saying they would disrupt four days worth of the eight-month commercial lobster season. That race, a season finale for the organization's Superstock series, was canceled.
Carbonell said safety will be an important aspect of this year's races, with medical responders on the water and helicopters in the air to watch for sea life.
The Marathon races are the second in a series of six leading up to the Key West world championship. The others are in Cocoa Beach, Pensacola, Clearwater and Michigan City, Ind.
The Key West world championship saw tragedy in 2011 when three racers died when their boats flipped.