Even after taking more than 8,000 frames in just three days late last month during Desert Storm—Lake Havasu’s annual celebration of speed on the water in Arizona—photographer Jay Nichols wasn’t ready to leave. Sunburned and wind-chapped from something like 12 hours flying around in a Robinson 44 helicopter with its doors removed, the ace photographer, who is based in the St. Petersburg, FL, area, still wanted more.
“This trip could have lasted forever,” says Nichols, who was headed to the Tickfaw 200 Poker Run the following weekend, and the Texas Outlaw Challenge the weekend after that. “I love this event, and I’ve been fortunate come out and shoot it for the past few years. It’s special.”
Given the divide between the East and West coast worlds of high-performance powerboating, Nichols couldn’t have been more correct. While the largest and most vital segment of the go-fast boat world, from builders to buyers, lies East of the Mississippi River, Desert Storm, with its Street Party, Poker Run, and Top Speed Shootout isn’t just the strongest event out West, it’s one of the top two or three go-fast boat happenings in the country. And this year was no exception.
That came as particularly good news to Jim Nichols, the event’s primary organizer, and his group of volunteers as Desert Storm initiated a major change for the start of the poker run this year. No longer would the boats start in waves led by safety boats. Instead, the run had a general start time of 11 a.m. and cut-off time of 2 p.m. Participants could head out on the water and return at their leisure.
The goal wasn’t just to enable poker participants to take the day at their own pace, but to discourage them from seeing the event as a race. Shortly after the start last year, there was an accident in which no one was injured but one that reportedly spawned a few lawsuits and heightened the organizers’ already serious concern about safety on the poker run course. This year’s poker run saw no such incidents, an impressive fact given that more than 150 go-fast boats—some capable of running more than 180 mph—were registered for the event.
Nichols says he did hear a few comments about the lack of “excitement” created by this year’s staggered-time start. But he says he also heard from many participants that they “Enjoyed the more relaxed boating atmosphere as they took their time running to the various card stops, rafting up with friends and “taking in the sights and sounds of Lake Havasu.”
The day before the run, Desert Storm’s organizers hosted the annual Street Party on a mile-long stretch of McCullough Avenue in Lake Havasu City. The party featured more than 90 exotic, high-performance V-bottoms and catamarans and 40 displays from marine industry companies. And while it would be a stretch to describe most of the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 folks in the crowd as “serious” performance boat customers, they created the kind of electric, good-time atmosphere that most boats shows would kill for from noon to 9 p.m.
Despite the fact that Desert Storm has eliminated group starts from its poker run format, it hasn’t pulled the perception of speed—much less the reality of it—from the event. Even in blustery conditions, Saturday’s Top Speed Shootout hosted 67 serious top-speed runs on the liquid-mile course near the Nautical Inn, which was Desert Storm’s host hotel and home base for all the parties and award celebrations. In the end, local aquatic speed-merchant Gary Smith took top shootout honors with a 170-mph blast in Predator, his 40-foot Skater catamaran powered by twin 1,700-horsepower engines.
While there had been a number of questions regarding Desert Storm’s future heading into this year’s event, Nichols—who actually had stomach surgery during the event but rallied to see it through—assured participants, sponsors, and his all-volunteer staff, that while there will be more changes to Desert Storm, it will continue.
“I am looking to create a new organization to build upon our success and bring the event to a new level,” Nichols says. “We’ll be working with some seasoned event producers and industry leaders to see visions we can bring to the future.”
That came as great news to photographer Jay Nichols, who can’t wait to get back to this go-fast boating phenomenon on a Colorado River-fed lake in the middle of desert.
“There’s really nothing like Desert Storm—the country alone is mesmerizing and the boat fleet is as good as it gets,” he said. “I hope I get to come back here and shoot for many, many years.”