10 Questions with John Tomlinson
As part of our 10 questions series, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to pick the brains of some of the leaders in the performance boat industry. This time around, we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to ask John Tomlinson some questions about how he got into boats, his passion for racing, the work he enjoys doing and how he throttled his team, Performance Boat Center, to another win in the Superboat class world championship in Key West Florida.
John has been in the boat business for over 34 years as a co-owner of TNT Custom Marine, an offshore throttleman with one of the most impressive records of any racer, race team manager, boat tester for leading boat magazines, and Hollywood movie consultant and driver. It is an impressive resume to say the least. I heard about John a long time ago as a kid growing up reading Powerboat, he was testing boats and winning races, doing things you dream about as a kid, so he is a legend to me. Here are 10 questions with John Tomlinson.
Where did you grow up and how did you get into performance boats?
I was born in Miami and have been here my whole life on the water. I used to see the old offshore boats down here and in the magazines as a kid, which sparked my interest in high performance engines especially with boats.
What are your 2 favorite race boats, and 2 favorite pleasure boats of all time?
I have raced many different boats in many classes that we were able to win championships with, but there was always a team behind the scenes that believed and invested in me to help make us successful. These were boats that we won a lot with over the years and in their own way were my favorites, 42' and 48' MTI, 388 Skater and 50 Mystic. As far as pleasure boats go, I prefer them simple and clean built like a race boat with a open pleasure cockpit and big power.
Before you started TNT in 1984 and racing on the pro circuit a little later, did you realize you could have a career in the boat industry? Or did that seem far fetched at the time?
I always dreamed of racing a boat as a young kid but didn’t think much about a career at that time so yes I guess you could say it was far fetched. I just hoped I could run a boat someday and would do anything it took to get that chance. Once Mike and I quit our jobs after high school we just worked really hard everyday and before we knew it time went by and we had a career in the boat industry.
With new designs and advanced materials, along with new engine technology, it seems like some pleasure boats are getting awfully fast, closing the gap between them and full race boats, which are also getting faster. Does this concern you at all from a safety standpoint?
When the 1350 came out and we saw the reliability with it, I knew it was only a matter of time before we would see many 150 mph pleasure boats from all the high performance manufactures. When they are run in adverse conditions or with other influences and inexperience we have seen the accidents that have unfortunately happened.
I always have told my customers to just take your time and get familiar with your boats characteristics. The more seat time you have in the boat will benefit tremendously and hopefully help recognize a situation before it happens.
Last year, you joined Performance Boat Center’s Superboat class team as the throttleman with driver Myrick Coil. What is the process for getting used to the new boat (388 Skater), a new driver and getting back to Superboat class racing?
The process was very easy with that team. Myrick and I have known each other for 15 years and go back to the years I raced all the Bacardi Silver boats, he was on the team back then working on the boats and testing with me and we also did some races together. The learning curve with us getting used to each other was very quick. After some testing and one race we were good together.
When I am with a new driver for the first time it takes longer, but with lots of testing and a few races to get comfortable with each other your usually good to go, the more seat time together the better. As far as the boat goes that class is extremely competitive with all the boats usually finishing races and running so close together so set up is very important along with consistency lap after lap.
You and the team ended up winning in Key West in what was an extremely tight race. What is your strategy and approach in a race like that when you know you have to run all out in order to win, in what was not the easiest conditions?
I think you answered the question for me (all out). We run our own race as hard as we can and hopefully end up out front. When its a 3 race series like Key West we know by the last race how we need to finish if we have a shot at winning the championship or not. So that last race you know going into it how you need to finish and then we shoot for that goal.
What is the future of offshore boat racing?
I think and I hope it will only get better with more racers, TV, good venues with easy access to the public, etc. The boat counts seem to be up this past year and we had some good racing going on so hopefully that will continue and it will grow more fans and participants.
If you can, tell us a little bit about the upcoming “Speed Kills” movie? I understand you did the driving for John Travolta in the action scenes. What boats were you running? And who has more of their real hair left, you or Travolta?
The movie was filmed in Puerto Rico. I was only there for the final 3 days of shooting and ran the boats doubling him in the ocean scenes which I think will just be quick shots (you never know what they edit out). We ran in 3 different eras I believe late 60s, mid 70s, and early 80s. I ran a 35' Pantera lettered up with Cigarette decals then an older 30' V bottom with a pair of small blocks, I'm not sure what manufacturer it was. Then I also played the part of Dick Bertram for a very quick seen in a 20' Bertram.
Actually I think we both have a good head of hair lol so not sure on that one. But in the movie we both had wigs to resemble Aronow.
Is there a book you’ve read or advice you have received that helped you be so successful in racing and business?
Not necessarily any books but there have been plenty of people I have admired, looked up to and worked with along the way that have helped us get to where we are today. I was taught and I believe if you put the work in and be honest with people you will succeed.