• The Count of Offshore Part 2

    by SeriousOffshore

    While doing the research on Vincenzo, and chatting with those who had the opportunity to recall his amazing life and career, it is interesting what they remember. We ended Part 1 of his Offshore history with one of Vincenzo Jr’s memories of his father assisting another competitor in the very first race his father ever ran;

    On the Cover of an Italian Boating Magazine 1970

    He was not the only one with memories of that very first race which ended Part 1…
    Only now I find time to write this anecdote about his first encounter with the offshore competitions. It is an interview that my friend and expert in offshore Gianni Giampaoli to Franz Furrer, the organizer of the first offshore race of the Mediterranean, the Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio, in July 1962. Both the race and Balestrieri had to debut. Furrer spoke of the first edition of the race that included the path split into two stages across the Tyrrhenian Sea, one going from Viareggio to Bastia to be made on Saturday and another return to be made the next day. The night before the race had blown the “Libeccio” the strong westerly wind and the sea in some places was over 4, then many people told Furrer not to make the start.
    Furrer said;”There was great confusion, at eight o’clock in the morning I go to the Club Nautico and others staff gather around the council not to give the start. But I told them that all the American and British races start in all weather conditions, because the boats are offshore and they must also be prepared to face extreme conditions and in Italy we do not see why we should not act in the same manner. There was a lengthy discussion during which time at the Club comes into the room my secretary Domenici and tells me that there is a man who wants me to speak. I told him to bring this gentleman. In front of me appeared as a blond, small, thin man holding documents and charts that says to me, < but then Mr. Furrer we start or not starting?! >. He was Balestrieri and had a ‘Versilia’, an old motor yacht Picchiotti and he trembling. He wanted to race and I told him that there was a discussion, but he interrupted me just say < what discussion?! Who does not want to race does not race and remains on the dock! >. So I thought that if a competitor, at least one, he took out the race was save. And I wanted to save the race!”
    During the race, then Balestrieri rescued the crew of a motor yacht Italcraft, who had a hole in the hull, escorting the boat until returning to port in Viareggio and did not finish the race.” Marco Bertini

    Both Luca and Alex recall their father explaining how, although Offshore Racing was a competitive sport, it was also a sport which still required the racers to be performers within a “Gentlemen’s Sport”. So, when racers were in trouble, winning was no longer the priority for Vincenzo, assistance was; no matter the personal cost or danger.

    The Count With Don’s on Both Sides. Aronow and Pruett , 1968

    There were a total of 15 offshore races in 1970, with Vincenzo winning 4 of them. The Wills International (Great Britain), the Napoli (Italy), the Viarreggio (Italy), and the Miami-Nassau (Bahamas). Tommy Sopwith won 3 that year, and Bill Wishnick and Dr. Robert Magoon won two each.

    How’s This Picture for a Who’s-Who of Offshore Most Influential?
    From left:
    Don Aronow, Bill Schieffelin, Balestrieri, Jim Wynne, Dick Bertram.

    January 20, 1971 – Presentation of the Sam Griffith Memorial Trophy,

    Vincenzo’s second World Championship. As Don is in the picture with Vincenzo, it seems like a very good time to bring up the following ……
    “One time, when Don and Michael were in Italy, Vincenzo insisted that Don drive his car back from Naples to Rome, when Don and Michael actually would have preferred to fly. The car was an American Nash Rambler. Once they got on the Autostrada and began running along, the car started acting up and eventually stopped running. First they were accosted by the police, who they tried to make understand that this was a friend’s car, not stolen. Then someone came along and offered to tow the car to a service station. The mechanic at the station was able to get the car to run again, but it was very limited on power and sounded terrible. Off they go again and head north towards Rome. Hours later they make the city and the car is now steaming and sputtering and smoking and then finally it dies in the middle of the street. Don looked at Michael and said…”Enough of this” They took a cab back to their hotel and Don called Vincenzo and told him where he could pick up his car.
    Vincenzo came over to the USA to visit Don so often that Michael said he became part of the family. When Michael would arrive home from school and find him at the house, it would be no surprise. Don had a little Magnum Missile outboard boat that he kept at the house and Vincenzo loved to run around in it, up and down canals, out into the bay, and even sometimes he went into the ocean.
    Vincenzo had a mechanic named Angleo when he first started racing, but he wasn’t really winning races. Don brokered a deal for the services of Don Pruett to come over and work with Vincenzo and he started winning races. Don told him he would make him a World Champion, as he could see that he had the personal courage to do the racing part, if he had the right equipment and help.” From Michael Aronow

    Vincenzo and Throttleman Jack Stuteville

    For years Balestrieri was one of the most accomplished racers in the history of the sport. A short recap of just the World’s major races won; He won 4 running’s of the Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio, in 1964, 1968, 1970 and 1972. He won the Sam Griffith Memorial in 1968 with Don Pruett, a controversial edition of the Miami-Nassau in 1970 with Jack Stuteville, and the Punta Del Este Uruguayan race in 1971. He won two Wills International Trophy races in England in 1969 and 1970.
    “As an aside, in the 1969 Wills Race, it was the first time in the UK we had seen the Mercruiser Sterndrives in use for the OP1 boats (Red & White Tornado).They had such a lead over the shaft drive boats, they stopped for a chat halfway round and still won by miles (Balestrieri in “Red Tornado”) Graham Stevens

    Vincenzo also won two Rio de La Plata races in 1971 and 1973, two Naples Trophy contests in 1968 and 1970, two Rosa D’Oro events in Yugoslavia in 1968 and 1969, a Gettingloppet in Sweden in 1968, and two Dauphin D’Or in France in 1968 and 1971. And the list of wins goes on….
    As for titles, the Count won two UIM World Titles ie; Sam Griffith Trophies in 1968 and in 1970. He finished second in 1971 and third in 1966, 1969 and 1972. He also received two National Titles in South America in 1971 and 1973 and received the Italian title in 1974.
    He was the very first non-American driver to win a US competition, the Sam Griffith Memorial race, in Miami in 1968.
    He raced on several hull designs, including those of Levi and Bertram. But his favorites were those of Don Aronow. He had several legendary Aronow boats like the Magnum Tornado a 28′ Magnum in 1968, two Black Tornado 32′ Cary’s in 1970 – 1972, and two Black Tornado 36′ Cigarette’s from 1971 to 1975. He ran his last race in 1975, ending an amazing streak of personal accomplishments the like of which the sport has very rarely seen.

    Another episode that my father very proudly told me is that sometime in the seventies, he was convocated in London, at the Worchester Hotel, for a gala evening in his honor because an international journalist jury (with no Italians in the committee), had sentenced that he was decreed the “Best Offshore Powerboat Racer” of all times, but by his own admission my dad always said that Don was the best ever. So I can proudly say that my brothers and I are sons of number two in P.B history. Vincenzo Balestrieri Jr
    Once, when the Count was considering retiring, John Crouse had some fun with a photo story. Here are a couple of photos with John’s captions on them you will enjoy.

    An additional story, another side of a great racer who so obviously wanted to give to the sport he loved so dearly, and also wanted to contribute to its future. In the early seventies, Vincenzo met a young man named Lance Taines. When I say young, I really mean young. Well, they hit it off and Vincenzo invited Lance to come over and race in Europe so, in 1974 that is exactly what Lance did. At the ripe old age of 19, Lance went to Europe and competed at the invitation of Vincenzo Balestrieri in Pescara, Italy in the Mustard Tornado. Over all these years since Lance, and his sister Lauren, stayed very good friends with the Count and his family. Many should remember Lance and his Cigarette Sabre Dance. Unfortunately, last year in April, at the way too young age of 56, we also lost Lance. Another offshore performer who is loved and missed, RIP. Lauren has been an incredible assist to the history portrayed in this story.

    Lance Taines Cigarette “Sabre Dance”

    Offshore competitors like Count Vincenzo Balestrieri come few and far between. His contributions and enhancements to the sport we all love can in no way be told in a short story like this one. His legacy will live on forever, and future generations will also wonder how he did so much. As a “Top 100 Most Influential” I would put him in the very first 10. Join us in the discussion, your thoughts, contributions and memories are encouraged. It sure would have been special to meet him in person.


    May he rest, and race, in peace for all eternity. God Speed.

    Vincenzo From the Angle Most Often Seen, RIP

    “As I said at the end of Part 1, I cannot give enough thanks to Vincenzo’s family and friends who were so kind as to help with this story. May each and every one of you thank them for their input and the expression of their special memories. I have been honored to assist in this small way to the history of someone so special to our sport.

    Paul “Ratickle” Rose

    My Most Heartfelt Special Thanks to 4 Very Proud Sons
    Luca Balestrieri, Sergio Balestrieri, Vincenzo Balestrieri Jr.
    Alex Balestrieri – http://albaco.net/tornado/index.html
    Lauren Taines; A Very Special Friend Throughout the Years
    Graham Stevens; Honored Friend, http://www.powerboatarchive.co.uk/
    Marco Bertini; Honored Friend, http://www.viareggiobastiaviareggio.com/
    Michael Aronow; Honored Friend
    Charlie McCarthy; Honored Friend, http://www.historicraceboats.com/