a while, you begin to appreciate the violent
clash of colors. Like the boats, and the event
itself, quiet cocktails on the deck of a yacht
club it ain’t. It’s loud, fast, and rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s the Shootout!
A HOMEGROWN EVENT
Mike’s company, Poly-Lift, makes boat lifts
and sponsors the poker run. Donnie has
a company that builds bars and houses
on docks. Most of the people involved in
the race, whether as racers or organizers,
seem to be small-business men and women.
Connie Weyer, who’s been rushing around
with a walkie-talkie organizing events, owns
Advantage Marine, a chandlery and repair
center, with her husband Dave.
This a homegrown event, and everyone
here knows each other, even the out-of-towners who come annually. The area around
Lake of the Ozarks swells with tourists every
summer, and it’s home to an infamous “party
cove” that attracts hundreds of boats on
summer weekends. At heart, though, it’s a
group of small towns that relies on tourism
as its main industry. The lake was formed in
1931 by a dam across the Osage River. At the
time, it was the largest man-made lake in the
country, and it’s been a magnet for vacationing boaters ever since, home to hundreds of
readouts covering the boat’s dash.
Later, after long hours in the Missouri sun,
most participants park their boats and head
to the last stop, Shady Gators, for the drawing
and general sharing of stories at the packed
bar. By that time we’re all old friends.
FAST, LOUD, & ROCK ’N’ ROLL
A note on the paint schemes of speedboats:
A POKER RUN IS NOT A RACE
They are garish. Loud enough to give the
engines a run for their money. There are
flames and stripes; stripes that turn into
flames at the end; flames that fade from yel-
low to orange; white leather seats with blue
and orange trim; lime-green dashboards with
blue gauges; and hulls striped with every
color of the rainbow. And that’s just Mike’s
boat. Others are decorated in the rest of the
human-visible spectrum, or themed, like the
Batman boat with bat-fins and an airbrushed
city of Gotham on the front. Brett Wagner
shows up at the helm of a 2005 46-foot Black
Thunder, painted with a Monopoly theme by
a former owner (a mortgage broker). Others
are subtle, with the addition of skulls. Still
others, the purpose-built race boats that are
here to compete for the title of Top Gun,
look like they flew here from a distant planet
where light reflects in strange new ways, or
where neon is an effective camouflage. After
saw a Shootout racer go 114 mph in a pon-
toon boat. It explains why visiting boaters
created a raft-up three miles long. And that
was only the first row. It even explains how I
came to love the paint job on Mike Maasen’s
cigarette boat. But more of that later.
The poker run, one of the main side events
to the Shootout, kicks off the week’s on-the-water action. I hesitate to explain what a
poker run is because the world, it seems, can
be divided into those who already know and
those who never will. But the rules are simple.
Starting at Captain Ron’s Grill, the participants travel to six other places, picking up
some token at each. At the end of the day, the
tokens are exchanged for seven playing cards,
and the best poker hand wins the money. A
popular T-shirt at the shootout features a kid
writing on the blackboard over and over, “A
poker run is not a race,” and it isn’t, officially.
But if a little spirited competition breaks out
along the way, well, no one seems to mind.
The start of the poker run is signaled by
a helicopter passing overhead, and when it
passes over Mike Maasen’s 42-X cigarette,
Just One More, we take off with a sound that
renders all other sounds obsolete. Mike is at
the controls, his wife Karie and friend Donnie
Simpson next to him in front. Donnie’s wife
Jessica and yours truly hang on in back. At
least one of us is grinning like a maniac as
the three Mercury Racing 525-horse engines
propel us at speeds I hadn’t thought possible.
I can’t say for certain how fast we go, partly
because of the wind in my eyes after my sunglasses flew off, but mostly because of the
bewildering collection of dials, gauges, and
My Way, on its way to victory
(above). The crowd beats the heat
trackside, at a raft-up that stretched
for miles (right).
See any clues that this 46-foot
Black Thunder was originally owned
by a mortgage broker (far right)?