The Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run

The Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run has a mix of pleasure and race boats.

By Gregg Mansfield
Photos by Loren Morrissey

Everyone should have a New Year Day’s tradition, whether it’s watching the College Football Playoffs on television or hitting the slopes.

For a group of dedicated performance boaters in Sarasota, Fla., January 1’s tradition is the 13th annual Joey Gratton Memorial New Year Day’s Fun Run. The event has no formal organization other than heading north to Bradenton to Caddy’s Restaurant. Or not.

It was horsepower on tap for the Fun Run that started in Sarasota, Fla.

“(They) don’t charge anything, there’s no registration, and it’s just show up and have some fun,” said Ryan Beckley, who was part of the original group to start the New Year’s Day tradition about 20 years ago. The weather is warm on the Florida coast and it’s a great reason to get out on the water.

What started as a local event has a nationwide draw with Beckley estimating about half of the participants coming from out of the area.

“For some people it’s just an opportunity to hang for the week,” Beckley said.

Most events would be envious of 70 boats, but the 2024 Fun Run version was lighter than a typical year. Beckley thinks it’s because the 14-day forecast had the temperatures 20-degrees colder than what ended up being a sunny 70-degree day.

The Joey Gratton Memorial keeps hisspirit alive, and the family always attends. Sons Blake and Brock Gratton had a new 38’ Doug Wright catamaran with a pair of Mercury Racing 500R outboards. Joining them on the poker run were center-console boats, race boats and even a pontoon boat.

The New Year’s Day tradition starts at the 10th Street Launch Ramp at Centennial Park in Sarasota. Boaters spending the week in town stayed at the Sarasota Hyatt or Ramada Inn waterfront.

The boats run north on Sarasota Bay through Bradenton and Cortez to the southside of Tampa Bay and then east to the Manatee River to Caddy’s Restaurant, which features tiki bars, beach volleyball and enough dockage to host 70 boats.

“There are people that do the run and then go have lunch somewhere else because they don’t want to be wrapped up with 100 of their best friends,” said Beckley, who owns Kinetic Animation in Bradenton.

Nick Buis of Statement Marine made a “substantial donation” to the Joey Gratton Memorial Foundation, which provides sports for underprivileged children.

On January 1, 2025, there’s no doubt where you’ll find Beckley.

“It’s not hard to organize, it runs itself now,” Beckley said. “I pretty much make some phone calls, I send out a couple of emails, I put some Facebook posts. I mean, the whole thing is run off Facebook now.”

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