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Diligence pays off in Reno's first APBA win

| Sunday, July 5, 2009

In a parking lot serving as a pit area, a block from the Allegheny River and adjacent to PNC Park, Jeff Reno's emotions shifted into high gear.

Disarray surrounded his travel party Saturday following afternoon qualifying for the American Power Boat Association Superleague Series event at the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta.

In the middle of it all, Reno frantically was attempting to repair a leaky fuel line on his Formula 2 tunnel boat.

"Ah, I'm having a great day," he said to anyone listening, as he stalked away, apparently in search of a little more wisdom.

That, and a bit of understanding, too.

"They aren't making any money, that's for sure. Nobody in powerboat racing makes anything. You just have a passion for it" said Sam Winer, who, along with his wife, Sherron, is a controlling partner in the West Virginia-based production firm Powerboat Superleague, which helps to stage the APBA Superleague Series.

Like many of the powerboat racers who came to the regatta, Reno, of Okeechobee, Fla., battled the unusually difficult elements of the Allegheny in search of a victory.

He got it, rallying from a No. 8 position at the start of the Formula 2 final to third position, where overpowered the leaders in the closing laps of the 30-lap event. And, of course, after miraculously fixing that troublesome fuel line.

"I knew I was going to put the boat back into the water," Reno said afterwards. "The same thing happened to me (two weeks ago) in Peoria (Ill.), and I had qualified second for that race and wasn't able to go."

The victory in the Superleague Series' second of seven scheduled races this year was Reno's first in 19 years in the APBA. He averaged 113.5 mph and topped the field in a time of 16 minutes, 42.44 seconds.

"Whenever I was chasing first and second, I felt like I just needed to get one more," Reno said. "I said, 'I haven't had a second for a long time.' But when I got there, I passed first, too, and I had to kind of pinch myself. I looked around to see who was in front of me and behind me, and I said, 'Holy Toledo!'"

The outcome followed a long drive to to get here, one that ended too late Friday to take advantage of any practice laps.

A day of preliminary time trials, qualifying heats and finals in Formula 2 and Formula 3 racing categories on the Allegheny, between the Clemente and Fort Duquesne bridges, highlighted the regatta's second of three days of extreme sports and family fun on and around Point State Park.

"They did a great job with the crowd and with publicity," Sam Winer said of the regatta committee. "This is as good a crowd as I've seen here."

With a public address announcer's voice blaring through speakers, some boats hummed and hydroplaned to speeds approaching 120 mph.

Brent Dillard of Dalzell, S.C., won the Formula 3 final in 11 minutes, 40.24 seconds and with an average speed of 87.2 mph.

Back at the parking lot pit, Ara Sergenian of Gainesville, Ga., had just completed his qualifying run in the Formula 2 race, and he was just happy to get through it unscathed.

Sergenian, who is in his first season on the APBA circuit, called the regatta event "a rude awakening."

"It was a little rough," he said, rolling his eyes. "Nothing like two weeks ago (in Peoria). "It's the toughest thing I've experienced."

Sergenian, a former regional road racing champion on the Sports Car Club of America circuit, struggled to stay on the lead lap with the more seasoned powerboat racers.

"I'm just trying to learn. It's something I've wanted to do," he said. "People in this racing community have been great. I've been accepted well. And I want them to know that I appreciate how they've been. I give them plenty of room and I've got a great radio guy who keeps me posted on where I need to be."

The boats, razor thin and with just enough of a cavity for a slender person to fit, need constant care and attention, as Reno again was reminded, while his wife, Carol — who also races — and their crews surrounded him at his disabled boat.

"He's a good guy, and he works hard at this," said Sergenian, glancing across the way at Reno's corner.

This time, the work was well worth it.

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