First and foremost, it’s the adrenaline rush. That’s the primary reason any racer puts the effort into preparing a boat, getting it to the Lake, registering for the event, waiting hours in line before getting a green flag from the start boat and running his or her boat as hard and fast as possible down the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout course. And it’s definitely the reason John Caparell, Tony Chiaramonte, Myrick Coil and Ron Szolack—four perpetual class champions—continue to return to the Shootout year in and year out.
“I think the spectators on the course and the people at the docks enjoy seeing my boats and the other ones out there, but I don’t do the Shootout to ‘show off’—it’s just an adrenaline fix for me,” said Szolack, a Michigan native who plans to run his fourth different Skater Powerboats catamaran in the 2019 event. “The Shootout provides the safest possible scenario to run a boat at speed. The water conditions are usually ideal, the course is closed and safety is a priority.
“The Shootout is by far my favorite event—after mine, of course,” he said then laughed, referring to the early-August Skaterfest event he hosts annually in Harrison Township. “I like all of the socializing that takes place, but it’s not the reason I come. I come to run my boat fast.”
And that’s exactly what he and Coil intend to do in his latest boat, the former Performance Boat Center Skater raceboat that is being re-rigged by Coil and company at PBC with a pair of 1,800-plus-hp motors from Sterling Performance Engines—the same refreshed power plants that propelled his 36-foot Skater to the 2016 Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Top Gun Professional Cat title with a 184-mph top speed.
Coil, who knows a thing or two about blasting along the course thanks to a 208-mph top speed alongside Mystic Powerboats owner John Cosker in Don Onken’s American Ethanol 50-foot Mystic that earned Onken the 2015 overall Top Gun trophy, was a key part of multiple-time overall Top Gun champion Dave Scott’s Nauti Marine team before the team merged with Performance Boat Center five years ago.
“There’s nothing like this Lake and nothing like the Shootout in my opinion,” Coil said. “It’s incredible that some of the coolest boats on the planet end up here at the Lake. The Shootout gives people the chance to see the latest and greatest products—not to mention participate in all of the other events going on throughout the week. In fact, for many builders, the event has become an important deadline for deliveries.”
Driving down the course at 200-plus mph, a feat accomplished by less than a dozen other people in Shootout history, is definitely at the top of Coil’s favorite Shootout memories. Another highlight: being crew chief when Scott ran his alcohol-fueled 50-foot Mystic 208 mph in 2010 to win a third-straight Top Gun trophy. But his most memorable experience was driving a 36-foot Skater with 1,700-hp turbocharged Sterlings with throttleman John Tomlinson.
“That boat had some ungodly amount of horsepower and that pass with JT was my first time in the boat,” Coil recalled. “I remember having to run up to the nose to help get the boat on plane and then rushing back to jump in it before we hit the start box. The boat was a rocket and we reached 195 mph on the old one-mile course. That’s the fastest I’ve ever been in an open-cockpit boat and I’ll never forget it.
“To me that’s what the Shootout is about—big power and extreme speeds,” he added. “It’s the American way, right? Pack as much power as you can into it and make it last as long as you can. You have to have a drag racing mentality more than an offshore racing mentality.”
When it comes to high-speed runs down the Shootout course, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a higher top-speed average over the years than Chiaramonte, one of the owners of DCB Performance Boats in El Cajon, Calif. His list of class wins is extensive, as is the amount of times he’s blasted through the radar traps at faster than 150 mph.
“The Shootout is a bucket-list boating event; it’s over the top,” said Chiaramonte, who drove longtime DCB customer Shawn Gibson’s M35 Widebody catamaran powered by twin Mercury Racing dual-calibration 1550/1350 engines to 168 mph in 2018. “I travel to a lot of events as a DCB representative, and because you can’t find any more high-performance boats in the country in one given place in one weekend, the Shootout is the gold standard. I also think it’s the most accurate shootout—the radar guns are usually plus or minus 1 mph of the GPS.”
Chiaramonte enjoys being able to run his customers’ boats fast, like he did in 2015 when he drove the well-known Lickity Split M35 Widebody 165 mph with twin Mercury Racing 1350s and in 2016 when he piloted Gibson’s previous 35-foot cat to an amazing 173 mph with the boat’s Mercury Racing engines in 1550 mode, but he also loves that DCB gets to display its works of art at the same time, from the docks at Captain Ron’s to Camden on the Lake Resort during the annual Super Cat Fest that takes place during the Shootout.
“The Lake of the Ozarks Shootout is the perfect scenario for DCB, which is why we focus so much of our energy on it,” Chiaramonte added. “It’s a good old-fashion ‘run what you brung’ event for boaters. And the people at the Lake who put it together go out of their way to provide an as-close-to-perfect venue for racers that gives them an opportunity to run their boat in the safest conditions possible.”
When asked why he continues to haul his boat all the way from California for the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, Caparell, who is from San Diego, said it’s because the event is the “Super Bowl of shootouts.”
Caparell participated in the event in 2008 and 2009 in his 28-foot Howard Custom Boats deck boat and won his class each time. Then in 2012 and 2013, he brought his new 32-foot Doug Wright Poker Run Edition cat with twin Mercury Racing 300 OptiMax outboard engines and reached 113 mph the first year and 115 mph the next year. In 2017, he brought the 32-footer back to the Shootout, but with nothing more to prove he opted to do Friday’s poker run and enjoy the weekend with friends and family.
“There’s really nothing like the Shootout in terms of places to go to demonstrate the speed of your boat in a controlled environment,” Caparell said. “The best part is that it’s not limited to professionals; anyone can run their rig as long as it passes safety and tech inspection. There are safety crews in place on the course and it’s always cool to see the massive spectator fleet.
“The Lake is beautiful, the TV coverage is spectacular and, best of all, the people are so welcoming,” added Caparell, who is undecided if he’s going to bring his newest boat, a single-engine Twister 24 Widebody to this year’s Shootout. “I don’t just bring my boat to try to lay down a monster number, I also come to visit with the friends I’ve made at the Shootout over the years.”
And there you have it. Four veteran competitors explain why there’s nothing quite like the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout.