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Remembering Shootout Hall of Famer and PlayCraft Boats Founder Jim Dorris

Members of the Dorris family and the Lake of the Ozarks community came together last Friday at First Baptist Church in Lebanon, Mo., to remember a boating industry legend, Jimmie Darrell “Jim” Dorris, the founder of PlayCraft Boats and Charger Boats who died at age 78 on December 9.

Normally surrounded by family, PlayCraft Boats founder, Jim Dorris, and his wife, Carolyn (center and below), have been mainstays at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout for nearly 30 years. Photo by Brad Glidewell/Glidewell Photography

A veteran of the Army National Guard, Dorris, who was born and raised in Morton, Miss., and was married to his best friend, Carolyn, for 45 years, was best known in performance boat circles as the mastermind behind some of the fastest pontoon boats to hit the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout course. Even his obituary states that his claim to fame will always be speed and his legacy in the pontoon industry, which essentially began in 1995 when he entered his Hydrotoon design, which would later become the Powertoon, in the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout that summer.

“You just hate to see these things; there’s no replacing a guy like Jim Dorris,” said Ron Duggan, who owns the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout host venue, Captain Ron’s Bar and Grill in Sunrise Beach, Mo., and has led the organization of the lake’s massive charitable event since 2008. “Ever since we took over and brought the Shootout to Captain Ron’s, Jim has been a mainstay. PlayCraft has been on dock one at Captain Ron’s since the beginning and Jim and his team have always brought a big contingent and have always had a huge following. He’s been a big part of the Shootout family from the participant side.

“Jim was kind of the guy that that all the pontoon people who came to the Shootout kind of looked toward, you know?” he continued. “He’s the reason why we have so many pontoon boats that are out there racing every year. He made it exciting for them to run in the Shootout. He’s made the boats fast, which made them cool, so I guess you could say he’s a big reason the boating community around the Lake of the Ozarks is heavily into pontoon boats.”

Dorris is survived by his wife, Carolyn; two sons, Joe Dorris and his wife Kim, and David Dorris;  his daughter-in-law, Betty Dorris; seven grandchildren, J.T. Dorris and his wife Melissa, Nicholas Dorris, Kaylee Dorris and fiancée Devante Chew, Kyle Dorris and his wife Ally, Kolby Dorris, Paige Dorris, Chance DeVos, and two step-grandchildren, Chris Thomas and his wife Jenny and Carrie Smallwood and her husband Billy; five great-grandchildren, Ava, Jemma, Adara, Amiah and Creedence, and three step-grandchildren, Makenzie, Ian and Liam; his brother, Tom Dorris and sister, Bev Orich and her husband Rick; father and mother-in-law, George and Beverly Merritt; sister-in-law, Marilyn McIntyre and her husband Bill; several nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, not to mention many dear neighbors and friends.

Those preceding him in death include his parents and two sons, Jimmie Darrell “Bo” Dorris, Jr. and Vince DeVos.

PlayCraft founder Jim Dorris competed in his final Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in August and reached 81 mph in his only pass on the three-quarter-mile course. Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

“I was so sorry to hear about Jim; he was a great man who was always so nice to my family and me,” said Myrick Coil, a fellow Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Bob Morgan Memorial Hall of Fame member—Coil was inducted into the esteemed group in 2020; Jim and Carolyn Dorris were part of the fourth annual class in 2016. “I was lucky enough to have an uncle with a Charger bass boat and I’ve done the Charger owner tournament multiple times. I also was lucky enough to race a PlayCraft pontoon in a race at the lake.

“It’s just a sad deal,” added Coil, a multi-time world champion offshore racer and shop foreman for Performance Boat Center in Osage Beach, Mo. “I had a lot of respect for Jim, not only because he was so welcoming, but because he was an innovator. PlayCraft Boats builds an incredible product in terms of construction and performance. Hell, their test ground is Lake of the Ozarks so you know they’re well-built if they can handle this lake.”

According to his obituary and the history page on the PlayCraft website, Dorris started building boats at MonArk Boat Company in Arkansas in 1968 and, in 1972, relocated to Missouri to work for Appleby Aluminum Boats, which at the time was the largest aluminum boat builder in the country. He sharpened his skills at Appleby for a more than a year before officially starting his own company, Charger Boats, in 1974.

After his 20 years of successfully building boats, Dorris started brainstorming on combining the comfort of a pontoon boat with performance. He said he was getting a little older, but still wanted to go fast and “run with the big boys,” so he and his team developed the Hydrotoon, which eventually became the Powertoon.

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Check out the slideshow above for more photos of Dorris courtesy of J.T. Dorris, George Denny, David Dilks and Carrie Sixkiller.

While speed and performance are what he’s best known for in the industry, his connection with his family and friends was the most important thing to him.

“Oh man, Jim was such a one-of-a-kind special guy—I’ve had a good relationship with him and his family for many years; they’re all such great people,” said Justin Wagner, who owns Waves and Wheels in Osage Beach and has owned several PlayCraft pontoons. “It was always a pleasure to visit with Jim and Carolyn. He was definitely a cool guy and he always told me how much he enjoyed seeing his boats that I’ve built and worked on. I’ll always remember him coming by our booth at IBEX a few years ago when we used a 33-foot PlayCraft for our display and he had this huge smile on his face. To me, he’s the kind of person you want to follow in his footsteps between the way he did business and the way he treated people.

“I’ll never forget Jim,” he added. “I’ve driven and been in a lot of fast boats in my day and I can’t think of one ride I could compare to riding with Jim Dorris in his 27 Extreme on a rough day at Lake of the Ozarks (laughs). I can remember hanging onto the vinyl as he was pushing 70 mph on a typical bumpy day at the lake. That was in one of his first 525-powered boat and man was that a rush. He sure knew how to drive boats.”

Although Carolyn Dorris is going to be grieving the loss of her husband for some time, fortunately she is surrounded by a lot of friends and family to help her move forward.

“It comes with great sadness today, I lost my husband Jim,” she posted on her Facebook page upon sharing the news of her husband’s passing. “He was a great father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend. Everyone loved Jim; he was truly one of a kind. He will be so greatly missed.”

That he will, yet there’s no doubt his legacy will be carried on.

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