With the brand-specific ninth-annual Skaterfest and inaugural Outerlimits Factory Fun Run happening last weekend, the Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run in Buffalo, N.Y., had a lot to compete with in terms of participation and boat count. Organized and produced by Anthony Scioli of Elite Poker Runs LLC and his team of volunteers, the event attracted 40 boats.
Smaller than it’s been in recent years, last weekend’s Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run also turned out to be more intimate for participants—and a high-flying affair for a few daring drivers. (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Jeff Helmkamp/Helmkamp Photos.
While that is a substantial drop from its 100-boat heyday five years ago when the event was then called the Buffalo Poker Run and operating under the Western New York Offshore Powerboat Association, it proved ideal for Scioli, who implemented a new safety program this year.
Between paceboats and safety boats with emergency medical technicians on board, the event had four official vessels. Thanks to a collaborative effort with Sonny Hawkins of Tiger Performance, Scioli and the drivers of those boats had helmets equipped with complete communication capabilities that included marine radio and telephone-via-Bluetooth systems. Through those systems, as well as handheld marine radios from Icom America for crew members other than the drivers, Scioli was able to effectively and consistently communicate with his paceboats (one for the faster boats, another for the slower ones) and safety boats.
Scioli said he had faced challenges communicating with those vessels in the previous poker runs he had produced and began working with the system during his 2019 Erie Poker Run. In Buffalo last weekend, he said, the system worked perfectly.
“I was able to be in constant communication with them from the helicopter the whole time and it was awesome because you can see things from the helicopter they can’t see from the water,” he said. “At one point for example, there was pack of personal watercraft I saw coming their way on the river while the boats were departing their card stop. So I was able to warn them. After another card stop, there was a big fleet of spectator boats waiting for them to take off. So I was able to tell the paceboats to take the poker-run boats past the spectator fleet before they let them go.”
Scioli said he sees helmet-based communication systems not just as something essential for organizers and their safety personnel, but for the drivers of poker run boats.
“I think we’re in need of a major paradigm shift,” he said. “People will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and more for a performance boat. Why not spend $1,000 for a helmet with an effective communication system while you’re in a poker run? Ultimately, I’d like to have all drivers in my runs using them.”
The event’s safety and paceboat crews also were outfitted with six high-performance personal flotation devices donated by DGT, an Australia-based company.
To enjoy more of Jeff Helmkamp’s photos from the 2019 Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run, check out the slideshow above.
The 40-boat turnout for the Buffalo event, which was backed by Double R Performance as a title sponsor, didn’t disappoint the ambitious organizer, whose next event is the Joe Sgro Memorial Poker Run on September 14 in Jersey City, N.J. Thanks to blustery and lumpy conditons on Lake Erie, the fleet went with a rough-water course that kept it mostly on the Upper Niagara River and out of open water.
“I’d say 60 boats is my sweet spot as an organizer,” Scioli said. “But with 40 boats, it was way more intimate and manageable, especially from a safety standpoint. Every year we get more and more spectator boats in Buffalo. If we would have had 100 boats in our fleet, the risk of something happening would have been that much greater. So I love the smaller runs.
“The camaraderie we have established and friendships we have built through the years made it special,” he continued. “And since the event celebrates Ray Nuchereno (a popular Buffalo-area performance boat enthusiast who lost his longtime battle with cancer three years ago), every boat got a purple carnation at the card stop at his boathouse. Purple was Ray’s favorite color.”