SARASOTA - No one was getting sunburned on Lido Beach Sunday. The beach umbrellas were planted so thick they provided a hammock of shade for thousands of race fans angling for a view of the power boats speeding by.
Lido Beach is now the prime viewing spot for the Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix, but Tommy Moller remembers when the track ran from the Venice jetties all the way up to the Skyway Bridge.
"I'm one of the original founders of the Grand Prix," said Moller, owner of Corvette's West and an ex-world super boat champion.
Planning the inaugural race in 1985, organizers wanted to get as much exposure as possible, but there were fewer restrictions then. Manatee zones alone impede a track of that size today.
"It was truly an offshore race then," said Moller.
Today's smaller track runs closer to the shore giving way to better viewing and the biggest beach party of the year.
Die-hard fans camped on the beach overnight or showed up at sunrise to get a front-row spot.
"We got here at 7 a.m., and we're second row," said disappointed Idella Thompson.
Terry Wildermuth, who travels from Virginia each year to see the race, chose to sleep in his hotel room at the Lido Dorset but staked his front-row claim Saturday afternoon by setting up a tent.
A group of 20-somethings not only slept on the beach but erected a mini-compound for race day, which included four tents, air mattresses, and a poker table.
To pull off a living room feel, they removed seats from a van to serve as a makeshift couch and Andrew Duncan, 22, even brought his coffee table.
Next to the compound, Sarasota resident Tom Tengerdy set up a full-blown bar complete with Jello shots, peach daiquiris, and the house special — a pineapple-infused margarita.
"This is our tradition," said Tengerdy, "We keep trying to outdo the previous years."
In addition to the bar, they had a couch bought at Goodwill for $10 to provide a little extra comfort and a moped on hand to shuttle in late-arriving friends who could not get parking.
Road construction on Lido Key impeded parking and short-cut routes, but it did not deter the crowd of fans who were walking, biking and taking taxis to get to the beach.
Longboat Key resident Jim Wall has watched the race with his whole family for more than 10 years. They call the weekend Christmas in July.
Topped with a stuffed frog instead of a star, their Christmas tree was dug into the sand between beach umbrellas and tents.
"My wife serves biscuits and gravy at nine o'clock, and then we do barbecuing," said Wall.
His only complaint: "They're giving parking tickets today, and I got one."