In what has become an annual New Year’s Day tradition for boaters in Sarasota, Florida, the 2019 Joey Gratton Memorial Fun Run attracted nearly 100 boats to celebrate the holiday and life of the late racer.

Boaters gathered at noon on the water near 10th Street Boat Ramp and ran the 20-mile trip north to Blu Mangrove Grill in Palmetto, Florida, for lunch. This is the 15th year for the fun run, which changed its name in 2011 to honor Gratton, who died that year in an offshore race.

This year’s event was far different than 2018 when rain and winds put a damper on the event. Participants enjoyed warm weather and sunny skies for the recent run. The fun run attracts boaters from as far away as New Jersey and Michigan, and many of the boaters show up days early to take advantage of the Florida boating weather.

Ryan Beckley
Ryan Beckley is one of the organizers of the Joey Gratton Memorial Fun Run.

Organizer and offshore racer Ryan Beckley said the Joey Gratton Memorial Fun Run is successful because of its low-key nature.

“It’s free, it’s fun and it’s not too organized,” said Beckley, who organizes the event with Sarasota-based photographer Pete Boden. “It started as a fun run because a lot of the guys didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars to do a poker run.”

The event raises money for the Joey Gratton Foundation through T-shirt sales that Beckley creates for the run and donations from the Blu Mangrove Grill restaurant. Gratton’s widow and children attended the festivities.

Beckley said the event is more about remembering Gratton while raising some money for the foundation. “He was a really good friend of ours when he was racing in the Stock class,” Beckley said. “This is a way to keep remembering him.”

Because many of the boaters will come in a few days before the run, Beckley has had requests to turn it into a longer, formal event.

“Everybody tell us to make it a poker run or this,” he said. “That’s really the last thing I want to do.”