LAKE OF THE OZARKS — A Missouri event which has been called one of the “must see” boat races in the country celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend.
The “Lake of the Ozarks Shootout” has a grassroots history as a way for boaters to establish bragging rights over who had the fastest boat on the lake.
A fixed course was set up after the first few years and the event is now billed on its website as the largest unsanctioned boat race in the US. with more than 100,000 spectators.
The race features about 100 boats of all shapes and sizes, with the only stipulation being that they be at least 22 feet long. The intensity level ranges from vacationers to serious power boaters with top speeds reaching over 200 mph.
Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Executive Director Christy Janssen told Missourinet that personal watercraft such as jet skis are exciting to watch as are big budget race boats. Janssen says it’s especially exhilarating to see Brad Rowland, who set a Guinness World Record in 2013 on Lake of the Ozarks for the fastest pontoon boat.
“He’s amazing to watch, a pontoon boat going 114 miles an hour down a lake,” said Janssen. “You have to hold your breath. Oh my gosh! You just worry that something’s going to happen because if he catches wind it could be detrimental to his life.”
A death did occur in 2014 when a 46-foot enclosed race boat traveling at more than 150 mph flipped and soared as high as 50 feet before landing awkwardly on the water. The vessel’s 44-year-old throttleman, Michael Fiori died the following Tuesday evening at University Hospital in Columbia.
That same year, the fastest speed recorded in the Shootout set a record for the lake when a turbine powered catamaran called Spirit of Qatar hit 244 mph. The race course was shortened last year from one-mile to 3/4-of-a-mile for safety reasons.
The watercraft are divided into up to 60 different classifications for the competition. There’s an award for the overall top speed of the weekend called the “Top Gun”. There are also Top Guns for the best performing professional and non-professional classifications. And there’s a Top Gun for manufacturers.
Janssen says the shootout always features a wide range of competitors from across the U.S. and outside the country. “There is going to be everything here,” Janssen said. “We got registration from as far as Canada. We’ve got people coming in from Florida and all over the United States to race their boats.”
Event organizer Ron Duggen told Missourinet in 2016 that every boat manufactured is represented in the Shootout. Duggen said one year a barge competed in the race, but such vessels were subsequently dropped because of the slow pace. According to Duggen, the barge heat was like “watching paint dry”.
Janssen says the race is unpredictable because the sheer excitement of the spectacle brings late entries.
“Sometimes people come down here just to vacation and be a part of the madness, and they get the fever,” said Janssen. “The next thing you know, they’re racing a boat. It’s always a surprise every year to see what kind of fun things are going to show up.”
Lake of the Ozarks was named “best recreational lake” in the 2015 USA Today Readers’ Choice. The newspaper praised the waterway for having 1,000 miles of shore as well as a wide array of activities, from fishing to shopping to dining to spas. The publication noted its nicknamed the “Magic Dragon” for its snaky shape.
In 2017, Boats.com named Lake of the Ozarks to its list of the “Top 10 Lakes for Boating in the Midwest.” The website said its “shores are lined with scenic hardwood forests around most of its length, providing idyllic places to sit back, relax, and take in the scenery.”
The Lake of the Ozarks Shootout is a 10-day event with official activities having started Friday, Aug. 17th. It ends Sunday with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m. The Shootout races take place Saturday and Sunday at Sunrise Beach.
The event raises money for eight local fire departments and 28 charities, mostly in the Lake of the Ozarks area. Organizers hope to raise $1 million for the non-profit groups, having reached $943,000.00 in 2016.