Back in 1988, it just sounded like a good idea. Get the local guys together and put an end once and for all to the ongoing argument over who had the biggest, baddest boat on the water. The bragging rights were up for grabs, and more than a few accepted the challenge that first year.
Back in 1988, it just sounded like a good idea. Get the local guys together and put an end once and for all to the ongoing argument over who had the biggest, baddest boat on the water.
The bragging rights were up for grabs, and more than a few accepted the challenge that first year.
Looking back, it may be the true Top Gun was the guy behind the scenes. Fran Steingrubey Sr. never has won a Top Gun trophy, but ask anyone who has been a part of the Shootout experience and they’ll tell you he's the guy who made it happen.
The race was named after the movie that was sweeping the country back then, a movie that told the story of the underdog coming out on top, walking away with the rights to say he was the best of the best.
Only here at the lake, the best of the best had nothing to do with being the pilot of a fighter jet, it was all about boats.
Twenty years later, the Lake Ozark Shootout is a living legacy of sorts to Steingrubey, the guy who started it all.
He was a drag racer at heart. There was nothing he enjoyed more than the thrill of thundering down an open stretch of waterway, skating across the surface with the throttle wide open and nothing to hold him back. And he brought home his share of records and trophies over the years.
In the 1960s, Steingrubey had left a successful business in Illinois and moved the family to the lake. Looking for a change of pace, he and his wife bought the old Robin’s Resort. By the late 1980s, he was ready for a new challenge. The Steinbgrubey family broke ground for a new lakefront entertainment spot that would be called Shooter’s 21.
Maybe it was fate, maybe it wasn’t, but whatever it was, it worked. Steingrubey’s Shooter’s was the perfect location to hold a race with plenty of room for a nice long stretch of waterway to give drivers space to open it up. Originally, the plan was to put on a drag race, but that idea didn’t float too well with the Missouri Water Patrol.
Instead, with the help of John Page, now the Camden County Sheriff but at that time chief of police in Osage Beach; Bill Seebold of Seebold Sports; and former Water Patrol Captain Bill Swineburg, who managed to get the permits in place, the beginnings of a different kind of race was coming together, Steingrubey said.
A timed race pitting racers against each other’s best run. A race geared to giving the locals a chance to show their stuff. Boats from 18 feet and up were welcome. The rules were simple and the goal was to have a good time, Steingrubey said.
Once Seebold convinced Anheuser Busch to come onboard, the race was on. It turned out to be a winning combination.
“We had a good time putting it all together and we got a lot of support from the community,” Steingrubey said.
The fire districts jumped on board, and when it came time to decide what to do with the proceeds, the answer was to invest it back in the community and use it to buy specialized equipment for the water rescue.
The lake area was growing, and development along the shoreline was getting ready to explode. As the area grew, it became evident that the fire districts were going to need training and equipment to provide emergency services on the water.
“It just all fell into place. If you would have told me 20 years ago that we would see the Shootout become what it is today, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “That first year we hit over 100 mph and now the boats are running over 200, people come from everywhere to watch, and the top classes of boats keep getting bigger and faster.”
The first year, Randy Scism took the Top Gun trophy running a boat with three or four outboard motors. A group of sheiks who were some of the sponsors for Scism boat apparently decided to come see what the race was all about.
They created quite the sensation. The folks at the lake weren’t used to seeing sheiks wandering around the lake. Despite the language barrier, they seemed to have a good time and enjoyed watching the boats. Before it was all over, they had donated $500 to the race, he said.
That first Shootout got the locals fired up and set the foundation for what has become the country’s largest unsanctioned race. It now draws racers running everything from personal watercraft and pontoons to high performance offshore boats.
The races have been responsible for bringing tens of thousands of spectators to Lake of the Ozarks to take part in the Shootout experience.
“It’s been good for the lake area, it’s fun to see all those people out there having a good time,” he said. “I’m glad to have been a part of it. I think all of us who have been involved in helping the fire districts get the right kind of equipment can be proud.”
Steingrubey plans to be on hand for the 20th anniversary celebration this weekend. He’ll be the guy giving the thumbs up as the racers pass.
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