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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

Alcone's Pleasure Cruise Quickly Turned Into a Powerboat Business

April 30, 1999|SHAV GLICK

Matt Alcone is a three-time world offshore powerboat racing champion who lives in Laguna Beach and has business offices in Irvine, but has not raced in his home port since his winning ways began five years ago.

Because there are few national or international races held off the California coast, Alcone has had to take his boats to the East Coast in search of success.

Now the proud owner of the prestigious "US 1" logo displayed on the sides of his 45-foot Skater catamaran, Alcone brought the boat home to race this weekend in the Dana Point Offshore Grand Prix. It is the first time a No. 1-ranked boat in the top class of powerboat racing has raced locally in seven years.

Dana Point is a regional race sanctioned by the Pacific Offshore PowerBoat Racing Assn. and the first of three. Oceanside is next on May 21-22 and Huntington Beach on June 12-13.

Alcone, with throttle man Jerry Gilbreath of Priest River, Idaho, won the opening race of the American Power Boat Assn. offshore national championship series last week in Miami. Gilbreath was a nationally recognized water skier and endurance racing champion before moving from Santa Ana to Idaho.

"The biggest races on the West Coast have been regionals run by POPBRA in recent years," Alcone said. "One reason we're here is to showcase the venue in hopes of bringing a national here next year. We think one off Newport Beach, where it was once held when [former world champion] Betty Cook was competing, would be ideal."

Alcone, 46, got into racing almost by accident.

"Living in Southern California, the ocean is a big influence," he said. "We live along the water in Laguna Beach so we decided to buy a pleasure boat.

"My wife and I walked into the showroom and she saw a boat she liked because it had a TV and microwave. It also had three supercharged engines.

"Each weekend we took it out, I got faster and faster. It got so our friends wouldn't go with me on pleasure trips. I'd come back to the dock and the refrigerator would be on the floor, the microwave broken, and I decided that if I was going to run a boat like that, I'd better get a race boat.

"I went to Douglas Marine, where they make Skaters [powerboats], and got one. We thought about cutting the canopy off and making a fast pleasure boat out of it, but I said, 'Just for kicks, let's take it to a race and see what it's like.'

"Well, I won that first race and like the gambler who hits his first roll of the dice at Las Vegas, I was hooked."

He formed Alcone Motorsports, headquartered in Miami, and was an immediate success.

In 1994, the distinctive teal and purple 40-foot Skater won six races and the superboat national championship. The next year he added a superboat world championship to his collection.

In 1997, Alcone bought a 45-foot Skater with a widened tunnel for more aerodynamic lift, and made offshore racing history by winning one national and two world championships in the same year.

Concentrating on the open class, top of the line in the APBA, Alcone won the national title, with its "US 1" honor, and was named driver of the year and inducted into the APBA Hall of Fame after his boat won six of seven races.

"Offshore powerboat racing is one of the few motorsports where driving responsibilities are split," Alcone said. "I do the steering, my companion throttles, and also adjusts trim angles on the engine and tabs to keep the boat on the water. At the speeds we turn, it is very important when a prop jumps out of the water, to throttle back or the engine will blow."

Unlike the 1980s, when the late Betty Cook of Newport Beach was winning three world championships, the driver and throttle man sit down inside a F-14 fighter canopy, an idea borrowed by unlimited hydroplanes.

Alcone set a lap speed record of 117.49 mph in the Atlantis Bahamas Superboat Challenge, with straightaway speeds approaching 160 mph.

When he is not racing, Alcone operates a worldwide sales promotion and marketing services agency he founded in 1977 with headquarters in Los Angeles and offices in New York, Seattle, Miami, Hong Kong, London and Australia.

His boat, white with fluorescent yellow, green, orange, plum, red and black markings, will be on display Saturday at the Embarcadero Marina at Dana Point. The race, which will run up and down the coastline south of Dana Point, will start at noon Sunday.

"It's a bargain," Alcone said. "All those race fans over at Fontana are playing big bucks to see the Winston Cup cars run. If they came down here, they could watch for free. If you have a boat you can park along the race course, and from the shore at Doheny Beach you can just about see the whole course."

RIM OF THE WORLD

Seven-time champion Paul Choiniere and navigator Jeff Becker will be the favorites when the annual Rim of the World Pro Rally takes off tonight from the Holiday Inn in Palmdale.

They will be in a factory-backed Hyundai Tiburon, as will teammates Noel Lawler and Charles Bradley for Round 3 of the Michelin SCCA ProRally championship.

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