To cap off its milestone anniversary celebration that included the first year of a new organizing committee, the 25th annual Desert Storm Poker Run in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., concluded with a record-setting performance in Saturday’s Shugrue’s Shootout, the three-quarter-mile top-speed contest in front of Lake Havasu’s Site Six launch ramp on the south side of the city’s famous island.
Engaged performance boaters Gary Smith and Patty Rich took home both the King of the Desert and Queen of the Desert honors at the Desert Storm Poker Run Shootout in Smith’s Skater Powerboats 38-foot catamaran Predator III. Photos by Jeff Helmkamp/Helmkamp Photos. Drone images courtesy Devin Wozencraft/Wozencraft Insurance
Not to downplay Friday’s poker run on the Colorado River-fed lake that featured a couple hundred boats from the West Coast and all parts of the country, but Predator III, a Skater Powerboats 388SS catamaran owned by Gary Smith of Tucson, Ariz., stole the show with a 204.1-mph pass on the course, which did not include a speed restriction when approaching the start line. The 200-plus-mph top speed was an all-time event record as no boat has ever reached that significant number, even when it was a one-mile course.
Smith, who captured last year’s King of the Desert title with a 184.8-mph pass and won the Texas Outlaw Challenge shootout with a 175-mph run, said he knew he had a pretty good chance to get to 200 mph after finding out a 40-mph restriction—the norm in previous years and at other events—would not be required at the start line.
“When they announced in the drivers meeting that we could do a hot start—not 40 mph in the box—I told Patty (Rich, his fiancé, who ended up winning Queen of the Desert driving Predator III to 193.2 mph mph) that 200 mph was possible,” said Smith, who was to quick credit his longtime friends—Carson Brummett of Brummett Marine in Pasadena, Calif., which built the twin turbocharged 2,500-hp engines in the boat, and Vern Gilbert of West Coast Drives in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.—for their assistance in setting up the 38-footer. “It takes a wonderful crowd to reach this level of success; I could not do any of this alone. I was pretty proud that Peter Hledin (the founder of Skater) was here to see the accomplishment. Fortunately for us the weather was great and the island protected the shootout course well from the wind.
“Overall the event was great,” he added. “From the amazing street party to the massive poker run to the shootout that continues to get better, the whole thing is pretty spectacular. Patty and I often can’t believe all of this is right here in our backyard.”
Check out a slideshow of images from Saturday’s top-speed shootout in the slideshow above.
Rich, who grew up around boat racing thanks to her uncle and cousin that raced and crewed under Stiles Racing in the Unlimited hydroplanes, called Smith a “great inspiration,” after driving the 38-footer up to a top speed of 193.2 mph in her second pass with Smith throttling.
“I feel completely confident in the boat at speed,” Rich said. “Gary has been training and coaching me for about a year and the confidence that he has just gushes out of him. It’s inspiring. He’s ‘Cool Hand Luke’ when he’s in the boat.
“Gary and Predator III have a love affair going on,” she added with a laugh. “I’m serious, that boat responds so well to him.”
And get this. Not only did the couple that is getting married in May win the two shootout titles, Rich had the best poker run hand and walked away with the top cash prize. Seems like a great way for someone who has long supported the event and is doing the same for this week’s Super Cat Fest West also in Lake Havasu City, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Desert Storm Poker Run, which was presented by Shugrue’s, Kicker Marine Audio, Anderson Powersports.
A sponsor and/or participant of the poker run for as long he’s been in business, Southern California’s Devin Wozencraft said he had a great time at the poker run and enjoyable dealings with the event’s new organizers, Jim Russell, an experienced local event producer, and Lake Havasu City business leader and real estate powerhouse Steve Ticknor, not to mention all of the customers and friends he runs into every year.
The turbine-powered XINSURANCE/Good Boy Vodka Mystic catamaran was one of many boats the Wozencraft Insurance team was happy to see stop by the first card stop of the 25th annual Desert Storm Poker Run.
“I’ve heard many people say it is like a family reunion and that’s so true,” said Wozencraft, who sponsored the first card stop in Havasu Springs and has two SPEED UTVs courtesy of Robby Gordon Motorsports in Anaheim, Calif., on the floating dock (pictured above). “It’s always so much fun seeing all of the boats, many of which we insure, from the card stop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to be out there boating—I’ve done both several times—but I enjoy seeing everyone come by and get their cards.”
For first-year full-time Desert Storm organizers Russell and Ticknor, Saturday’s top-speed contest results put an exclamation point—make that 204 of them—on the overall success of the event.
“We are so proud to congratulate Gary Smith, who once again is the Desert Storm King of the Desert, on his 204-mph run,” Russell said. “And to have his fiancé, who made a 185-mph run, be our Queen of the Desert was incredible.
“We are thrilled to have taken Desert Storm 2.0 to the next level,” he continued. “And we’re looking to make it even better and set more records in 2024.”
Check out a slideshow of images from Friday’s poker run above.
Performance Boat Center co-owner Brett Manire, who had never made the trip from Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks to Lake Havasu for the poker run, said he had a great time on and off the water.
“It’s a lot of work to get all your stuff out here and situated but once you’re here, it’s pretty neat boating in this beautiful water in the desert with the gorgeous mountains all around,” said Manire, who ran the dealership’s newest Sunsation Powerboats 40 CCX luxury performance center console in Friday’s poker run. “It was fun seeing all the different kinds of boats we don’t see in Lake of the Ozarks or in Florida. Everyone was very friendly out here, too.”
Southern California performance boater Jay Ware, who has participated in Desert Storm many times and has been boating at Lake Havasu and in the Pacific Ocean with his parents for close to 30 years, was thrilled to get to run his new 34-foot Fountain Powerboats catamaran powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R engines in the poker run. Ware purchased the cat from Big Thunder Marine at Lake of the Ozarks in July and kept it at the lake for the season before taking it to his home lake in November.
Jay Ware enjoyed the Desert Storm Poker Run in his new 34-foot Fountain catamaran.
“My friends told me the best part about my new boat is that no one has one on the West Coast,” Ware said. “And while that’s true and it’s something I do like about it, that’s not the best part. The best part is how well the boat runs in rough water. It’s not a lake boat in terms of lake boats I’ve had that love flat water and have features like a hose to wash the sand off your feet. It’s an offshore boat that eats up the chop and the waves. It’s fine in flat water, but that’s not what it was built to do. On Friday in the poker when it was rough from the boat and wind chop, we ran right down the center of the lake averaging 90 to 105 mph and the boat didn’t flinch. It’s insane how well it runs across rough water.
“I like Desert Storm and will likely continue to support it, but it’s not what it once was,” he added. “It would be great if the new organizers could figure out a better way to keep everybody together. I know it’s a huge event with a lot of participants so that is challenging, but it gets pretty split up.”
Unfortunately early on in Friday’s poker run, a couple of participants, Mike Bolin and his wife, Lindsey Buff, were injured when their 43-foot Outerlimits was involved in a single-boat incident. The Southern California-based boaters who have participated in Desert Storm several times and were wearing lifevests were in critical condition on Friday but have since improved to stable condition and are expected to make a full recovery despite many broken bones. Their friend, who was in a rear seat, escaped uninjured.
On a more positive note and to circle back to the record-breaking run by Smith, there were several notable performances from the top-speed contest, including the return of former King of the Desert, Chip Romer, who reached 195.4 mph in the Cervesa Skater, and a blistering-fast run of 141.2 mph in a 36-foot catamaran powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R engines by Performance Boat Center’s Rusty Williams. Jeff Clark reached an impressive 164 mph in his 31-foot DCB cat, while Eric Wexel ran his Miss Wex Chief Powerboats V-bottom to a top speed of 101.3 mph and Aaron Treppa of Sunsation reached 91.6 mph in the company’s 32-footer powered by two new Mercury Racing V-10 400R engines.
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