Tom Pakradooni has been racing for almost 30 years under two sanctioning bodies: the APBA and the Canadian HRL. He raced grand prix hydroplanes for nine years, and now he competes in the Jersey Speed Skiff JS-7 Rolling Thunder. His boat is named after a Methodist hymn: “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder.” When not racing, he’s also the owner of Two Rivers Yacht Basin in Chesapeake City, MD.

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JS-7 "Rolling Thunder" (white) at the Cambridge Classic. Photo by Dennis J. Falkowski/FareFoto

Pakradooni has won High Point awards five times, racing in Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Ontario, and Quebec, Canada, and has been racing with teammate Michelle Morgan for about two years. Tom drives, while Michelle is the rider, or “riding mechanic.” He explains how the tradition of having two people in a skiff dates back to the 1940s. 

He says: “The boats look pretty much the same as they did in 1947 when they first started racing. They were made of wood then and are fiberglass now, but it’s the same design. And in the 40s you needed a riding mechanic as a second pair of eyes on engine gauges and other boats. You don’t need a riding mechanic now, but the sport keeps that tradition alive; it’s an important part of the racing.” 

When describing this sport, Pakradooni acknowledges that preparation is key. “When preparing the boat, you really need to use your head. Driving, they are very similar to driving a pleasure boat; unlike hydroplanes, which are nothing like driving pleasure boats.”

When he used to race hydroplanes, he admits he had a few close calls, and went upside down twice. “When you go upside down in a grand prix hydroplane, you stay upside down,” Pakradooni says. “You’re strapped in a harness and have a mask and onboard air. The air activates when you go upside down, so then you’re basically a scuba diver. We train in a pool for this scenario, so when it happens, you try and remember your training. Luckily there are rescue boats, jetskis, and divers close by.” 

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Tom Pakradooni with teammate Michelle Morgan.

While Pakradooni was racing hydroplanes, he was also driving a skiff whenever he had the chance. Now he sticks to the Jersey Speed Skiffs. When I asked him what his favorite aspect of racing was, he said undoubtedly the social side of it. And he said many racers would probably tell me the same thing. 

“You get to meet other racers, see friends on the weekend,” he adds. “And the spectators are boaters, too. The races are well-attended because the spectators are fellow boaters. They boat just like we do; we just do it faster,” he adds, chuckling. “We don’t go as far as they do but we go faster.”

His best advice for someone hoping to get into racing would be to come to a boat race and walk around and talk to participants. “Find someone you feel comfortable with, and most people will help as much as they can. Just make sure it’s a down time,” he says. “In my case, wake me up if I’m sleeping in the trailer.” 

Tom says he’d be happy to chat with any aspiring racers out there; look for him and Rolling Thunder at an upcoming event. Next up on the Bay is the 109th Cambridge Classic, May 18-19 at Great Marsh Park in Cambridge, MD.