Regional Poker Runs Are Raging

The Buffalo Poker Run attracted an event record of 102 boats. (Photo by Tim Sharkey.)


By the time you read this, Jason Johnson, my co-publisher at, and I will be on the road. Again. (That’s kind of catchy—someone should write a song about it.) Last weekend, we covered the Big Cat Poker Run in Northern California. By Thursday afternoon, we should arrive— promotional trailer in tow—at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Missouri.

Relatively speaking, the Big Cat Poker Run was “local” for both of us. It’s based out of Discovery Bay, which I can drive to in about an hour on a good day. At five hours, Johnson’s drive from his home in Southern California to the Big Cat’s home base was a bit longer, but not nearly as long as the 1,600-mile drive he made from his home to Houston for the Texas Outlaw Challenge in June. Of course, our 2013 season coverage started in late April at Desert Storm in Arizona.

Contributor Tony Esposito filled in for us on the East Coast, covering both the Atlantic City, N.J., and Buffalo, N.Y., poker runs. And while we did not have a writer assigned to the Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Michigan or the Pirates of Lanier in Georgia, we stayed in close contact with organizers and key participants at both events, and reported on them.

Boyne Thunder sold in record time—and the organizers had to add slots at the last minute. (Photo by Jay Nichols.)

So what did they all have in common? By the numbers alone, they rocked this year. Big Cat attracted 74 boats, roughly a 20-boat increase from last year. Boyne Thunder sold out its 80 slots faster than it ever had—and even added four openings to accommodate last-minute entries. The Buffalo Poker Run pulled in a record 102-boat fleet. The Texas Outlaw Challenge saw a record-setting 120-plus boats participate.

Sure, with 40-something boats Atlantic City was down from its maximum capacity, which is limited to 50 boats, but the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the New Jersey Shore and surrounding areas had a little something to do with that. Still, by using the poker run as the lead off event in the inaugural Atlantic City Festival of Speed, which included boat rides for veterans for Wounded Warriors and an Offshore Powerboat Association race, it might well have been the most successful event in the history of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club.

Leaving the waterside community of Discovery Bay, the Big Cat Poker Run’s boat count was substantially higher this year than it was last year. (Photo by Jason Johnson.)

Desert Storm, too, was down from its all-time high of close to 200 boats with a fleet of 130-plus entries. But its annual Street Party was as good as it’s ever been, and its Top Speed Shootout—actually competitive for the first time in its history—was the best it’s ever been.

As for Pirates of Lanier, the most relevant number is this one: $250,000. That’s how much money the event reportedly raised for local charities.

Here’s another number to consider: one, as in one-off, which is what all of these events are. They are not part of a poker run series. They are one-off events mostly organized by volunteers who put in long, unpaid hours to make them happen. They are fueled by passion and joy, and they almost always include a major charitable component.

Pirates of Lanier reportedly raised $250,000 for local charities.

I don’t think the big-name signature poker runs such as the Florida Powerboat Club’s Key West and Miami Boat Show events and Poker Runs America’s 1,000 Islands Poker Run are going anywhere. In fact, I’d say they should be at or near the top of your to-do list if you love running with amazing hardware through spectacular scenery. And the Miami Boat Show and Key West poker runs are particularly compelling because they are “destination” events that land you in pretty cool places for a few days before you have to head home.

But some of the best times you’ll ever have on the water could be a whole lot closer to you than you think. To overlook what’s happening just up or down the road a few hours is a big mistake.

Of course, the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout is almost 2,000 miles from my doorstep. At least I’m in good company as go-fast boat owners from all over the country are bringing their rides to this one. But despite its national appeal, the Shootout is at its heart a regional event. It was created by local volunteers and it is still run by local volunteers.

Time to pack now. See you there.


Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.



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