By Gregg Mansfield Photos Jeff Gerardi/123Freeze.com
The fog had shrouded Florida’s Sarasota region in the days leading up to the Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run and organizers could only hope Mother Nature would deliver sun on the day.
“I was afraid to open my blinds on Saturday morning and to see fog,” said organizer Ryan Beckley. “When I saw it was sunny out, I was like, ‘thank God.’”
About 100 boats from around the country turned out for the fun run on January 1 and to remember offshore racer Joey Gratton, who died in 2011 during a crash at an offshore race in Key West, Fla. Beckley and friends started the informal fun run 20 years ago as a jokey New Year’s Day gathering but renamed the event following Gratton’s death. The Gratton family attends each year.
As the event had grown on the decades, some performance boaters have turned it into a weeklong holiday vacation to get out of the cold weather in northwest. Chris LaMorte has attended the fun run since 2012 using it as a holiday getaway to relax. After getting married on New Year’s Eve in 2016, LaMorte and his wife, Quinn, attend for their anniversary. Also in attendance were Todd Lamb from Spectre and Scott McCormick from Velocity Powerboats.
“Now it’s become kind of an anniversary getaway, fun run, boating mixture of everything,” LaMorte said. “Now it’s got dual meaning for us, it’s kind of an anniversary slash get to use the boat.”
The Hyatt Sarasota was the de facto location for the week with the docks filled with Cigarettes, Skaters and MTIs. Participants arrived in town the day after Christmas and on Thursday before the Joey Gratton Memorial is the “Munyon Run,” affectionately named after Bill Munyon and his son Jack. The 60-mile run goes to Tampa Bay for lunch at Hula Bay Club. The Munyon’s couldn’t participate in their own event because a starter failed on one of the Skater 368’s Mercury Racing engines.
On New Year’s Eve, photographer Pete Boden rented a helicopter to shoot photos of the participants running their boats offshore.
For the Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run, Beckley estimates about 100 boats made the lunch run to Caddy’s Bradenton, which has turned into the busiest day of the year for the restaurant. Because the fun run has grown so large, participants were encouraged to pick other lunch spots to ease the crunch.
“There’s no place that can take a 100 boats,” said Beckley, who was joined by his wife Debbie and sons Chris and Connor for run. “We tell them here’s where we’re going to go and you can go to any of these areas and enjoy yourselves, but don’t everybody go the same place because none of them can take all of you.”
The fun run attracted boaters from the Northeast, Michigan and as far as way as California with Devin Wozencraft dragging his 30 Skater to Florida for the week. Mystic Powerboats owner John Cosker made the trek to Sarasota from Florida’s East Coast to participate.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the fun run’s self-directed approach is a big reason why it’s grown to more than 100 boats. There’s no entry fee and participants handle their own travel arrangements and dockage.
Beckley said the only organizational duties he does is to call the restaurant and have Graphic Ink in California print up the event shirts.
“People come up and tell me I need to charge a registration and that I deserve to make money on it,” Beckley said. “I don’t care about that. That’s not my business. It’s only been the last 10 years when Joey (Gratton) passed, we made it in honor of him because Joey used to come on the run every year. So, it’s just a fun run and the Gratton family loves it as a tradition.”