LAKE OF THE OZARKS, MO. — Taking the Top Gun title for the second year in a row, Don Onken’s “American Ethanol” wowed the crowd over the weekend with a 217mph charge to victory at the 2016 Lake Of The Ozarks Shootout.
Don Onken’s “American Ethanol” boat is a 51-foot Mystic Powerboats catamaran, powered by 4 Keith Eickert Engines, each with their own Vortech V-28 123mm Superchargers, linked with couplers to create, in essence, 2 twin-supercharged V-16 powerplants, producing a total well in excess of 7,000 horsepower.
When asked about the previous year’s 208mph victory that tied the record held by multi-time Shootout champion David Scott and throttle man John Tomlinson, Onken said “We are satisfied with making the boat perform like it should. And we are satisfied with sharing the record for a piston-powered boat with Dave Scott. He paid his dues over the years and brought so much attention to the Shootout. I have a lot of respect for Dave so it was nice to tie him.” But leading up to the Shootout this year, Onken reiterated “Yeah we are satisfied—we just want to be more satisfied this year. We won’t feel bad about breaking Dave’s record next time around.” This turned out to be an accurate prediction, as the 217mph run demonstrated on Saturday.
The win was not without controversy, though, as the winning run Saturday was initially disqualified. Although being cleared for a run, an issue at the starting line resulted in the “American Ethanol” boat receiving a “black flag” designation, resulting in disqualification of the 217mph run. Onken protested the disqualification, and the Shootout committee voted to overturn the ruling later that same day. The winning run, with Slug Hefner at the wheel and John Cosker at the throttles, was the only run for “American Ethanol” on Saturday, but no other boat could match the 217mph run.
Onken, an Illinois farmer by trade, as well as owning Oil Filter Recyclers, Onken Racing and Lightning Performance Group, has participated in the Shootout since the 1990s, missing only a few years while busy offshore racing. Onken and team have gotten progressively faster year-to-year, with the boat reaching 186mph in 2013 and 188mph in 2014, before making the conversion from 14-71 roots blowers to Vortech V-28 123mm centrifugal superchargers and American grown high-octane ethanol-based fuel for the 2015 Shootout, enabling them to take it to the next level. The difference in power was potent, taking each of the 582c.i. Big Block engines from 1,200 each previously to the current staggering 1,900+ horsepower each, for a total of roughly 7,700 horsepower.
“To have a sponsor like American Ethanol that we as farmers can relate to and that is relevant to what we as boat racers do, is about as good as it gets,” Onken said, adding that it was well worth putting a name on the side of the boat. “And it worked out great. A local boat powered by local corn wins the Shootout and proves to people that ethanol isn’t a bad thing for marine engines—sounds like a win-win for all of us.”
“I couldn’t be happier for Don and his team,” said John Cosker, owner of Mystic Catamarans and throttle man for both of Onken’s Top Gun winning victories. Cosker went on to say that Onken’s catamaran was the smoothest 200-mph run he’s ever felt—and Cosker, who’s Mystic catamarans have accounted for 11 Top Gun titles since 2005, probably has more seat time above 200 mph in a boat like this than anyone in the world.
Even after this accomplishment, Onken is not going to just sit back and call it good. “We need to go to the next stage now with bigger engines and more horsepower,” he said. New 600-cubic-inch engines that he projects will make about 2,300 hp each are in the works. Cosker has calculated the projected speeds at about 220 mph, which he said would be fast enough. “I think the Ethanol people are happy with us,” Onken said. That’s a pretty safe bet.
Photo Credits: American Ethanol Racing, Eric Colby/Poker Runs America, National Corn Growers Association