The first organized go-fast boating event of any given year—at least in the United States—the Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run in Sarasota, Fla., broke the 100-boat barrier in 2020. And as the event approaches its 10th anniversary in 2021, organizer Ryan Beckley of Kinetic Animation, a locally based company specializing in powerboat graphics from full wraps to stickers, is guardedly hoping for a similar turnout.
New Jersey’s Chris and Quinn LaMorte will celebrate their fifth anniversary at the 2020 Joey Gratton New Year’s Day Memorial Fun Run. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“Man, it’s been such a messed up year—all bets are off,” said Beckley, a veteran offshore racer who competed in all three Offshore Powerboat Association events this year. “But I know people are already making reservations for rooms and slips, and we are getting phone calls from people who are coming or want information.
“I think there will be an abundance of raceboats this year, too,” he added.
Launched by Beckley in its current form following the death of beloved Sarasota-based offshore racer Joey Gratton during the 2011 Super Boat Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., the event attracts a healthy mix of Sarasota area locals such as offshore racer Billy Glueck, as well as participants from around the Sunshine State and various parts of the country. The relatively short, 26-mile run to a local lunch spot—Caddy’s in Bradenton this year and again in 2021—starts in the late morning.
Participants from around the country travel to the 2020 event and are likely to again this year.
As it is for so many Sarasota-based powerboat enthusiasts, the event is among Glueck’s favorites of the year.
“What makes it special for me is the fact that it has been dedicated to a dear friend of mine who I have not forgotten about, and I enjoy the fact that there is an event dedicated to the remembrance of him, which I think he deserves,” he said. “Also, it does not hurt that it is held in my hometown, which keeps powerboating alive in a place where it has been historic.”
From across the state, participants such as South Florida’s Yvonne Aleman and Greg Harris make the Gratton happening the centerpiece of a week of boating.
“Some of our best boating has consistently been during that week,” said Aleman, who will drive the couple’s MTI 340X catamaran with Harris throttling. “It’s a great group of people and its central location—the Hyatt—makes it easy for all of us to be together the whole week. We also get to catch up with a lot of our friends that we do not normally get to see during the year.”
The Gratton celebration has produced its share of great moments, not the least of which was the first day of Chris and Quinn’s LaMorte’s honeymoon. Married on New Year’s Eve 2015, the New Jersey-based couple flew to Sarasota, where their 36-foot Skater catamaran was ready to go—thanks to Beckley, Grant Bruggemann of Grant’s Signature Racing and Speedonthewater.com chief photographer Pete Boden—the following morning and participated.
The LaMortes enjoyed their first New Year’s Day Fun Run in Sarasota in 2013. They’ll be spending their fifth wedding anniversary there this year.
“We have made a lot of friends during this run in the past seven years,” said Chris LaMorte. “In addition to doing it to support Ryan, we know Blake and Brock Gratton and it’s nice do it to remember their father.”
New Jersey’s Bob Christie, who currently owns a 34-foot MTI, said a healthy contingent from the Garden State is coming to the Southwest Florida happening.
According to Bob Christie, a New Jersey-based performance-boating enthusiast who currently owns an MTI 340X catamaran, at least a dozen other participants and their guests from the Garden State will be in the mix during the 2021 event.
Said Christie, “It’s great see boating friends and it’s a nice run, not too long, for lunch. Everyone stays for lunch longer than you might think, which gives us a chance to socialize and buy Gratton T-shirts for their charity.”
In honor of Joey Gratton, members of his family attend the event every year.
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