As is usually the case in mid-October, Stu Jones, Jackie Jones and the entire Florida Powerboat Club team are running full steam ahead in preparation for the Key West Poker Run that takes place in roughly four weeks with two departure days from Miami to the Southernmost point in the United States.
This year marks the 26th anniversary of the country’s most iconic poker run, making it hard to believe that I wrote my OffshoreOnly.com column almost six years ago to the day about the poker run “Turning The Big 2-0.” That’s beside the point as FPC has its hands full to try to top last year’s praiseworthy 25th annual affair.
“We’re not planning to change much this year—because of the setup in Key West, we usually don’t change a whole lot, we’re kind of limited as you can imagine,” said Jones, who added that registrations were approaching 150 boats and he expects a surge in the final two weeks before the run despite the club’s dock space being filled up since August. “We’re still working to squeeze in some sponsors who have expressed interest and tighten up some of the lunch details since Gilbert’s has its docks repaired now.”
Besides some behind-the-scenes organizational changes that Jones said will help things run more smoothly during the Friday and Saturday evening festivities at the Conch Republic Seafood Company, Jones is excited that the “Project 1080” boat—his Cigarette Racing Team 38-foot V-bottom that’s been completely updated and repowered with a pair of Mercury Racing 540 engines—is going to be part of the Cigarette display in the event’s poker run village.
Jones, who hopes to run the boat to Key West on Wednesday then put it on display for the rest of the week, actually seemed to more excited about the club’s latest undertaking—the Florida Powerboat Foundation.
“Key West is going to be the first event for our new Florida Powerboat Foundation,” Jones said. “Our club has always raised money for charity at different events, but this foundation is going to provide a more structured approach since it’s not easy to raise money for charity and manage the finances of that if you don’t have a proper 501c3 established. We’ve also decided to put the safety part of the club under the foundation umbrella since we plan to donate to many of the credible charities we’ve raised money for in the past as well as give back in terms of safety and educational programs and agencies.
“We expect to leave a substantial amount of money in Key West this year although we haven’t figured out exactly where the money is going yet,” he added. “We’re going to use this year to come up with a more structured approach for fundraising in Key West. This event should be a great way to get the wheels of the foundation turning.”
Jones stressed that the club never gets complacent in terms of marketing, customer service and, most important, safety. He also pointed out that he has the world’s greatest sponsors. Between Mercury Racing, presenting sponsor of the poker run, OffleaseOnly.com, which donates a car for the grand prize winner, and dozens of other sponsors who contribute in many different ways, the sponsor list is extensive and impressive.
“The show-stopping offshore cats and V-bottoms are always a big part of everything, but this year we’re expecting to see a larger array of new center console offerings than we’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “We’re talking 57-, 60-, even 65-foot center consoles. That market is on fire. When you step back and look at how far the luxury performance center consoles have come in the last few years, it’s pretty wild.”
Wild is right, and I can’t wait to see what, if any, surprises Jones and his awesome club members have any in store for the 26th annual Key West Poker Run.
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.