In 1978 David Parkinson created the international Canon Trophy powerboat race series for craft with large capacity outboard or stern drive engines. In 1981 this evolved into the FONDA World Grand Prix Series with 2 litre outboards, backed by the drivers’ association and sponsored in the late 1980s by Budweiser. The series in turn became the official UIM F1 series in 1990.
The idea of the first series began in a bar in Paris during the classic 1977 Paris Six Hour race, in the shadow of the Eiffel tower. Parkinson was in PR and one of his clients was Mercury. He had taken a group of journalists to watch the race. Taking a break with Gary Garbrecht, Director of Racing at Mercury Hi performance, the two of them wondered why there was no major international series for top outboards. Garbrecht said Mercury would back David if he could create a worthwhile series.
Parkinson then visited the organisers of six of the leading European events and they all welcomed the chance to be part of the plan. They were the Bristol Grand Prix, England; Casale Monferrato, Italy; Dramen, Norway; Berlin, Germany; Amsterdam, Holland, and Paris, France. Canon Business Equipment was another of Parkinson’s PR clients and it agreed to support the new venture and give the Canon title to the series. In 1980 Barcelona, Spain and Parker, U.S.A., joined the race venues.
Press reaction was favourable. Typically, the prestigious ‘World of Yachting’ yearbook in its comprehensive 1979/80 edition said ; "…the Canon Trophy was an immediate success….The Canon Series is the only one of its type in the world and hence attracts all Formula 1 drivers including the top Americans….."
Mercury provided engine support at races via engineer Steve West (in a fully equipped support vehicle) and when appropriate, by local Mercury engineers. Also part of the travelling team was FM Television which issued half hour race videos, news packages and magazine features (Trans World Sport and Gillette World Sport Special) to a combined total of more than 100 countries with an estimated global audience of approximately 500 million people. This was in addition to national TV coverage for most races.
The Canon series had been created without the official knowledge or sanction of the Union International Motonautique, the world governing body of the sport, and initially relationships were rather strained. But with its success, the UIM soon gave the series recognition. Circuit racing was and is his first love but David eventually served on various UIM committees and again Gary Garbrecht was involved. Gary was Chairman of the UIM Offshore Commission responsible for offshore racing world-wide and also for the Class 1 Sub-commission responsible for the big expensive top class of offshore boats. He made Parkinson secretary for both committees. When Gary retired as Chairman he was followed by another American friend, Mike Jones, the then President of the American Power Boating Association. Mike asked Parkinson to continue as secretary.
At the end of the 1993 series David retired after sixteen years organising and running powerboat race series which had included well over 100 events in 23 different countries. These were as far afield as the U.S.A and Singapore, Russia and South Africa. Drivers from all continents competed and nicknamed the series ‘Parky Tours’. Steve Kerton described the races as: "Gatherings of a truly international family of friends off the water but with no favours expected or given on the water at 120 m.p.h"
Another big boat involvement had been as part of a team organising an unsuccessful attempt on the trans-Atlantic speed record in 1978. This was in a specially designed 36ft boat designed by Don Aranow, powered by four large Mercury engines and sponsored by Citicorp, the huge American finance house. Unfortunately after battling heavy seas for 40 hours it had to be rescued by an American navy frigate. Don Aronow was America’s leading offshore designer, builder and racer of his generation but was tragically murdered outside one of his Florida factories. The management team taking over the operation appointed Parkinson’s company to handle its European PR.
When David retired from running the UIM Formula One series he handed over to Nicolo di San Germano who is still the current F1 promoter (as of Feb 2016). However he still kept involved with power boating when from1997 to 2000 Motor Boats Monthly commissioned him to use his considerable international contacts within the sport to attend and provide full reports on selected circuit and offshore races on both sides of the Atlantic
After more than a decade away from the sport a happy and unexpected pleasure was in December 2012 when Nicolo di san Germano invited David to the final race in Doha in that year’s F1 series, to be enrolled in the UIM F1 Hall of Fame.
Many thanks to David Parkinson for supplying the above text and photos (May 2014)