American Ethanol wins its fifth Top Gun trophy at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks Shootout. 

Story by Gregg Mansfield
Photos by Jim Davis and Gregg Mansfield

American Ethanol won its fifth consecutive Lake of the Ozarks Shootout with 201-mph pass. 

John Cosker didn’t get much sleep the night before the final day of the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout. American Ethanol had yet to secure the Top Gun trophy and the team wasn’t sure it would get another chance.

It was an unfamiliar spot for Cosker but he knew it was beyond his control. A spectator drowned and divers searched late into the night to locate the victim.

“I went to bed last night not knowing if we would be Top Gun because we weren’t sure,” said Cosker, who has won the last five Top Gun titles. “We weren’t in first place and we weren’t sure if we were going to be running today. I don’t know if any of us slept that well.”

The 2019 Top Gun winners, from left, driver Tony Battiato, 
throttleman John Cosker and American Ethanol owner Don Onken.

Cosker, who was throttling, and driver Tony Battiato got their chance on Sunday, delivering a blistering 201-mph run on the 3/4-mile course to win the 2019 Top Gun title. The duo earned the Top Gun title on their last run as the Mystic catamaran threw a blade, damaging the transom and a quick tow to the docks by water patrol.

“When it first hit, I thought we exploded an engine because it was so violent and then I could feel the vibrations, so I knew we threw a prop blade at that point,” Cosker said. “I throttled one engine and then the other, figured out which one it was and then shut the port engine down but then I knew if we threw a prop blade it probably had a really good chance of going through the bottom of the boat.

“I kept the boat up on plane on one engine as far as I could, unstrapped, came out of the canopy lid, went back and we had thrown the prop blade through the bottom of the boat.”

Cosker said the thrown blade was so violent it blew the engine hatches off, broke the GPS and threw pin cleats from the deck. “We were in Aqua Mania, the turbine boat, we threw a blade in that boat and it vibrated pretty good but it was nothing compared to this,” he said.

Don Onken, owner of American Ethanol, didn’t mind his boat needed repairs after his team secured its fifth Top Gun.

“We knew it was going to throw with 4,700 horsepower on the prop, going over 9,000 (rpm) so we knew it would happen,” Onken said. “It was making too much horsepower.”

Ron Szolack and Myrick Coil had the fastest speed on the first day with a 169-mph pass in Szolack’s 388 Skater Powerboat. They knew it wouldn’t stick when American Ethanol fixed a sensor problem on an engine.

“You’re running against yourself and you can’t worry about the other boats,” Coil said. “It was nice to have the fastest speed, but we knew it wouldn’t stick based on how fast American Ethanol has run at past Shootouts.”

The fastest V-bottom in the Shootout was piloted by Ben Robertson, who posted a 143-mph run in a 42 Lightning from Fountain Powerboats. With a pair of 1,550-hp Mercury Racing engines under the hatch, Robertson bested Saturday’s 123-mph pass with two 143-mph runs on Sunday.

“The 42 Lightning is pretty much a pure pleasure boat,” he said. “We could pull some weight out of the cabin and it could go even faster, but I thought it ran great as is.”

The Shootout has grown into a week-long event with poker runs and other events to supports businesses on the lake.

Record Weekend

Billing itself as the largest unsanctioned boat race in the country, the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout has become a must-attend event for high-performance boaters. The Shootout is packed with activities to entertain visitors and raise money for local charities.

The Shootout has grown well beyond the days of speed runs in front of Shooters 21, a restaurant and bar that was torn down long ago for a development. Spectators now can do a poker run, checkout out the Shootout on the Strip Meet and Greet or chill at Camden on the Lake Resort, among a few of the activities.

The goal is to get visitors to stay the week and not just the weekend, said Christy Janssen, executive director of the Shootout. That approached is working as the 2019 Shootout raised $357,000 for local charities, $57,000 more than the 2018 running.

“We want them to come and just vacation, spend their week here, enjoy all the activities we put on, there’s something for everybody–kids, adults, young, old,” Janssen said. “We have something for every single day you can participate in or you can take a day and break in between. However you want to do it.”

Area charities receive a percentage of the funding depending on how many volunteer hours they work at the event. The money is much needed for organizations to combat poverty in Lake of the Ozarks.  

“By extending this event out to make it a weeklong or longer, more and more people are making this a weeklong vacation,” said Ron Duggan, who’s restaurant hosts the Shootout and is one of the main organizers. “The idea was we want to help the economy, we want to help a bunch of charities and it’s working out great, actually.”

Duggan is often approached about adding events to the Shootout. “I’m like, ‘Will it raise money for the charities?’ If it does, I’m all for it. Let’s figure out how we do it,” he said.

The Shootout has grown into a week-long event with poker runs and other events to supports businesses on the lake.

One of the more successful additions has been the Shootout on the Strip, which featured many of the boats that ran in the Shootout. Organizers added the event in 2010 to bring some business to the Bagnell Dam Strip and local marine dealerships and boat builders jumped at the opportunity. Visitors walking the strip saw millions of dollars of hardware including Skaters, MTIs, HCBs and Nor-Techs.

Organizers estimate about 5,000 people attend the Shootout on the Strip but the crowds appeared larger on the August summer evening. Bo Foster, who owns an old Baja, made the 40-minute drive from Jefferson City, Missouri, to check out the boats.

“The level of boats keeps getting better and better since I’ve been going the last three or four years,” Foster said. “The owners are really approachable and love to talk about boats. I’m not able to attend the Shootout itself because I have to work weekends, but this gives me my Shootout fix.”

Party Scene

Two of the best parties during the Shootout was the epic bash thrown by Performance Boat Center at its dealership and the Super Cat Fest organized by Alvin Heathman at the Camden on the Lake Resort & Spa.

Performance Boat Center opened the doors to its dealership at mile marker 21 in Osage Beach and the crowds turned out. With a live band playing outdoors, boaters had tacos and drinks among the Wright Performance Boats and Cigarettes in the service bays. Out on the docks, the MTI catamarans had cockpits and engine compartments lit up to showcase the hardware.

Performance Boat Center threw a party for race fans and held a silent auction for charity.

The highlight was the fireworks display to end the evening. With an aerial display that lasted nearly 30 minutes, one poker runner joked that “New York could learn a lesson for the Fourth of July.”

Camden on the Lake Resort & Spa party was central with Heathman serving as the master of ceremonies. Heathman launched Super Cat Fest in 2010 and it’s become the spot during the Shootout. The industry’s top catamaran builders—Mystic Powerboats, Dave’s Custom Boats, MTI and Skater—filled the docks with John Woodruff’s Jet Ranger helicopter centerstage on a boat lift built by Summerset Boat Lifts.

Night events included a bikini contest at Camden on the Lake Resort.

Super Cat Fest held a Friday evening bikini contest that drew big crowds and on Saturday evening during the Shootout held its Super Cat 4-Kids live auction. More than $100,000 was raised with the money going to four local charities including the Sharing & Caring Foundation, Kids’ Harbor, Make-A-Wish Missouri and the Children’s Learning Center.

Because there is such a concentration of high-performance boaters at the Camden at the Lake, it’s become a mini boat show for builders. Rather than running in the Shootout, manufacturers are getting plenty of exposure on the docks at the Camden on the Lake Resort & Spa.

Cosker’s Mystic Powerboats had eight boats at Super Cat Fest and had to balance his time between running in the Shootout and being at the Camden on the Lake. He expects the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout to keep evolving.

“(It) gets bigger every year—the poker runs, the fun runs, everything is just growing and growing,” Cosker said. “I tell people that are coming here for the first time, it’s the event where you’ll see the highest concentration of performance boats in one place anywhere else in the world. It’s the gathering place.”

From swim-up pools to great restaurants and bars on the water, Lake of the Ozarks is the perfect vacation spot for the high-performance boater.