There’s no denying Tennessee performance boater Justin Lucas deserves a lot of credit for helping build the Lake Cumberland Thunder Run into a major nationally known event. But he’s the first one to tell you that the run, which was held at State Dock in Jamestown, Ky., for the first time in the event’s 10-year history on Saturday, June 16, is a total team effort.
Not only does he and his good friend, Dan Weiss, devote hundreds of hours of their personal time a year to organizing the run, they recruit their significant others and some dedicated friends to make sure the event goes off smoothly for the 100-plus boaters who attend the Thunder Run annually. Or in the case of this year, an unexpected 180-plus boats that decided to make the trip to the popular houseboat destination—State Dock—at the last minute.
“Whether you have 80 boats or 180 boats, it’s never easy organizing an event—you’re only as good as the supporting cast around you, and Dan and I have an amazing team,” Lucas said. “Since this was out first time at State Dock, we’ve already identified some things we can improve for next year. Even though we were only prepared for about 150 boats—we expected 125 or so based on pre-registrations—we improvised, adding two more groups and using stickers from past years to accommodate everyone.
“From the outside looking in, I’ve heard nothing but good things, but from an insider’s perspective, it was a little chaotic,” he continued. “Overall, the venue was great, the party was amazing, everybody was safe and the winners definitely went home happy with their prizes.”
Lucas takes pride in the event prizes, which includes custom watches, LED signs and coolers, not to mention free houseboat rentals, high-end marine speakers and much more. He works particularly hard at gathering prize packages as well as wrangling up a list of sponsors that value the event and the effort Lucas puts into it each year.
Here’s the thing about Lucas that everyone who knows him well can tell you, he’s loyal. Case in point, Lucas, his wife, Erin, and their three kids, Alexandra, Emma and Jackson, opted to trailer their boat—a 30-foot Concept Boats center console—a few hours to the Kuttawa Cannonball Run based at the beautiful Kuttawa Harbor Marina in Kuttawa, Ky., less than a week after an exhausting couple of weeks preparing for the Thunder Run.
“I wanted to check out the Kuttawa Cannonball Run this year because several people from the run came out to support our event and I wanted to return the favor,” said Lucas, who enjoyed the second annual event that features two runs—a long leg on Kentucky Lake and a short leg on Barkley Lake. “There are so many runs out there that I feel like we should all work together and support one another as much as we can. I’ve made a lot of friends because through performance boating—more than I ever thought I would when we started the Thunder Run 10 years ago.
“It would have been easier to sit at home and decompress after an exhausting few weeks leading up to our event, but Erin and I decided that we should support the Cannonball Run and also get away with the kids since they’re the ones who suffer the most around the Thunder Run,” he added. “We had such a great time. It was a nice change of pace to go from organizing a run to going to one the next weekend just to hang out. My son, Jackson, and I even got to take a ride in the helicopter and he was blown away. Now he says he wants a helicopter instead of a boat.”
Lucas said he noticed dozens of boats at the Kuttawa event that also attended the Thunder Run and he credits those participants who made the effort to do both because he knows it’s not easy doing events on back-to-back weekends.
A new sponsor of the Thunder Run, Bill Day, who owns Day’s Boat Sales in Frankfort, Ky., said he had an amazing time at the event and thanked Lucas, Weiss and company for their efforts.
“The team did a great job with the Thunder Run—we’ll definitely be back next year,” said Day, who brought his 35-foot Fountain Powerboats V-bottom to the event. “I couldn’t believe we finished third at the Thunder Run. I just got into powerboating a couple of years ago—tournament fishing has always been my thing—and we recently became a dealer for the Fountain, Donzi and Baja lines, and have been surprised how good business has been.
“Since we’ve gotten more involved in the performance boats, we’ve started getting more excited about going to new places and finding new ways to enjoy boating,” Day continued, adding that he sold a new Baja 27 Outlaw with a Mercury Racing 520 engine to a new customer he met at the Thunder Run. “Since we recently sold the Fountain center console we planned to show off at the event, I have to thank my friends at Big Thunder Marine in Missouri for bringing a center console and an outboard-powered catamaran to the run to put in our sponsor slip.”
It’s that type of camaraderie that Lucas believes is essential—whether it benefits his own event or not. For example, he’s been working with Arkansas’ Kevin Johns of Instant Memories Photography, which handled both the aerial photos and the entertaining photo booth during the Thunder Run’s evening festivities, to introduce him to more event organizers.
“Kevin did a great job for us this year,” Lucas said. “He works hard and his photo booth is always a hit. He was a big asset to the team this year.”
There’s that word again—team. Like the word team, there is no “i” in Lucas—although there is in Justin so maybe that analogy doesn’t work. Kidding aside, Lucas, who also helps organize the Old Hickory Fun Run, Raft Up and Bar Crawl in Nashville, doesn’t get as involved as he does for self promotion. It’s all about having a good time on the water.
Former Powerboat editor Jason Johnson was an integral part of the magazine staff from 2005 through 2011, utilizing journalistic integrity and experience in and around performance boats to report on all aspects of the go-fast lifestyle. The award-winning writer resides in Southern California and is the executive editor and co-publisher of speedonthewater.com.