The 2019 Miami International Boat Show that concluded last week proved to be another successful event for Mercury Racing and Mercury Marine. This was the fourth-consecutive year the show was held on the grounds of the Miami Marine Stadium Park on Virginia Key. We felt this might be a perfect time to reflect on the stadium’s racing history and the possible future of the iconic site.
The Stadium, which originally seated 6,500 people, was designed by Cuban born architect Hilario Candela and constructed in 1963. It features a man-made basin that is 6,000 feet by 1,200 feet (wider than the National Mall in Washington D.C.). Originally designed for boat racing, the Stadium hosted musical performances of every type, boxing matches, water shows, Easter sunrise services, campaign rallies and community events from 1964 through 1992. It remains the only stadium in the U.S. built specifically for powerboat racing.
Mercury has supported the site from the beginning, sponsoring water ski shows and competing with arch rival (and now defunct) Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) – producer of Johnson and Evinrude outboards at the time. It was some of the more exciting factory outboard tunnel boat racing of the era.
Legendary tunnel boat competitor Bill Seebold won several races at the Marine Stadium. It was there that he witnessed perhaps the most famous boat racing accident captured on film. Three boats running side by side caught some air and all three flipped simultaneously. Bill was in the outside lane and saw it all while travelling at more than 110 mph. Amazingly, all three drivers walked away without a scratch. Ironically, Reggie Fountain, in his #76 boat, was one of those drivers and would go on to race with Bill on the Mercury factory racing team.
The Marine Stadium was closed in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew hit the region, even though the stadium was not damaged by the hurricane.
Racing into the Future
Powerboat P1 brought racing back to the stadium in 2018 for the first time in 26 years with its P1 Miami Grand Prix that featured AquaX US Championship watercraft racing and one-design SuperStock outboard competition. Although the grandstand section of the stadium couldn’t be used for seating, the racing convinced Friends of Miami Marine Stadium that the site is viable as an entertainment facility.
“You can’t get any closer to powerboat racing action than being in the stadium,” said Powerboat P1 CEO Azam Rangoonwala of Miami Marine Stadium. “It’s a truly unique, purpose-built venue that’s just perfect for enjoying the sport.”
“The Miami Marine Stadium now has a bright future” said Don Worth, co-founder of Restore Marine Stadium. In 2008, an advocacy effort was launched to save and restore the Stadium. As with many advocacy campaigns of this nature, there were challenges. But now the city of Miami is committed. In 2016, the city authorized $45 million to fund restoration of the Marine Stadium. RJ Heisenbottle Architects is now developing architectural plans and Hilario Candela – the architect who designed the stadium – is a member of the restoration team. The city of Miami has also issued a Request for Proposal for professional management. The restoration process is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2022.
Almost victim to the wrecking ball, the Marine Stadium is now rightly regarded as an architectural marvel. When originally built, its folded plate roof was considered the longest span of cantilever concrete in the world. The Stadium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2018 and is now highly lauded by prestigious organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund.
“When I started my work on the Marine Stadium, I didn’t know anything about boat racing” said Worth. “But I’ve talked to many boat racers and people who have watched races there and my wife and I are now boat racing fans. I can’t wait to watch a race at the Marine Stadium.”
To keep up with the progress, go to the Restore Marine Stadium Facebook page.