Learning on Lake Elsinore

Friday, September 26th, 2008.
Issue 39, Volume 8.

Courtesy photo.
1995 World Champion Tommy “Bomber” Bonacci is to be inducted into the International Jet Ski Boat Association Hall of Fame next month.

Tommy Bonacci, owner of Bomber Eyewear based in Costa Mesa, is one of eight internationally recognized personal watercraft representatives to be inducted into the Jacobsen-Stjernstrom IJSBA (International Jet Ski Boat Association) Hall of Fame this year.
Bonacci represents personal watercraft racing from Southern California with another 2008 inductee, Billy Pointer of Laguna Nigel.
Racing since 1987, the 1989 and 1990 Expert 550 Limited Class World Champion and 1995 Pro Sport World Champion is humble about his induction. He thinks mostly about the years of hard work and practice it took with family and friends to get him to this point.

From a big Italian family
Bonacci recalls his childhood spent on the shores of Lake Elsinore.
“There is still a picture of me in our family album of me in a playpen on the shoreline at Lake Elsinore,” he said. “Our whole family learned to water ski there every summer.
“One time on the way to Lake Perris – about 1976 – we had this overloaded camper shell with at least 15 family members in it. Back in the day, big Italian families traveled this way. We were towing a boat and we had a blowout of the rear tire.
“The truck was swerving all over the freeway. I remember being up on the top bunk over the cab of the truck screaming along with the rest of us as my father tried to bring the truck to a halt.
“We were swerving so bad my cousin in the front seat of the truck got his arm scraped up by contact with the asphalt. Yeah, we almost completely tipped over.
“As all of that was going on the boat came disconnected from the truck and fell off of the trailer and passed us going down the freeway. At the same time, a truck driver saw this going on behind us and started rolling back and forth between lanes to slow down traffic.
“The truck driver said, ‘It looked like the situation was really going to be bad,’ when he pulled over to congratulate my dad by patting my dad on the back and saying, ‘Good driving.’”
“The CHP came by and said to us, ‘You are so lucky that camper didn’t tilt over, ’cause when they do they shatter into a million splinters.’
“I’m proud of my dad for saving the disaster and not losing any family members.
“We really tore up the freeway when the boat skidded hull-down, crashing through the center divider. What a mess. It took us a while to find the boat trailer.”

Other family memories
Cousin Darlene Esposito works with Bonacci at the family-run eyewear business. “I remember that day we almost lost our whole family,” she said. “But, I also remember some really good times too.
“I remember in 1968 we used to go to my uncle’s house in Corona somewhere near a big sign by the freeway shaped like an apple. Can’t remember the offramp name, just the apple sign.
“We would pile half the family [after that incident] into the old Mercury Cougar with baby Tommy wrapped up in a little bundle and laid across three of our laps in the backseat and head straight for the Roadrunner campground at Lake Elsinore for the day while Uncle Frank would tow the old boat behind truck.”

Bonacci’s take on Elsinore today
“The lake has cleaned up so much since I was a kid. I look forward to racing there,” Bonacci said. “But I do see the gas prices are definitely affecting where people are boating.
“I see that the local lakes are just as crowded; if anything, the local economy for these communities should be benefiting from the local boating use.”

Other hobbies
“I’m 40 years old now and I take cross-training very seriously,” he said. “I surf in the summer at Oceanside, ride motocross in the cooler months at Perris and Lake Elsinore. Sometimes I’ll go to Pudding Stone to ski on my Runabout. My other hobbies include playing guitar and hanging out with my 5-½-year-old son, Rocco.”

The ceremony
All Hall of Fame inductees and Lifetime Achievers will be recognized at the third annual Hall of Fame ceremony on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. at the London Bridge Resort’s Convention Center in Lake Havasu.
A private reception for the inductees, their families and VIP guests will be held at the Convention Center at 7 p.m.