Breaking Records

American Ethanol eyeing 7th Top Gun trophy

Compiled by Charis Patires
American Ethanol in the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout.

They are one of the most beloved racing teams at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout … and they come to win. American Ethanol spends all year preparing for the race with one goal in mind — to go faster.

Owend by Don Onken, American Ethanol has racked up six consecutive Top Gun trophies (2015-2020). The fastest speed clocked was 217 miles per hour. He’s outnumbered by world-champion racer Dave Scott who holds the record for number of Top Gun wins at eight, five of them consecutive. Scott has since retired from racing making it possible for Don to eventually outpace him with the number of Top Guns.

“Our plan is always to go faster,” Don said. “We are working on new engine combinations and are currently on version four. We are hoping for more horsepower with more reliability.”

The team of American Ethanol.
American Ethanol with the Top Gun Trophy.

Every August, offshore powerboats from all over the world come to race in the Shootout. Teams compete to clock the fastest speed in their class, earning the Top Gun trophy.

As soon as the Shootout is over, the crew for American Ethanol start to plan for the next year — pulling the engines and seeing what needs worked on.

“We spend the next year replacing parts, making changes, and doing lots and lots of testing on the dyno,” Don said. “We enjoy the challenge. We are constantly brainstorming, solving problems, and making changes to try to create a boat and engine combination that will provide the results we want to see.”

To get American Ethanol in top-notch racing condition, in addition to Don two full-time employees, Earl Moorman, crew chief, and Dave Bernshausen, work all year to get the engines and boat ready. Several volunteers and family members help out when they can. This year they’ve enlisted the help of ProCharger to provide expertise on the 2500+ Mercury motors that are supercharged by ProChargers.

Of course, none of it would be possible without driver and mechanic, Tony Battiato, and throttleman and Mystic Powerboats owner, John Cosker.

The crew of American Ethanol.

“We always have a lot of goals but an important one this year is to try to make three runs down the course,” Don said. “With the high horsepower our engines produce, it can be difficult to have all components hold up for multiple runs. We love that fans come to watch us, so we strive to put on a good show for them.”

Don has been involved in the Shootout since the beginning when he ran a 302 Formula at the second Shootout at Shooters 21. His history in racing began in 1956 with drag racing and evolved into offshore powerboat racing in the 90s. In 1997, Don crashed during a race and the decision was made to focus on the Shootout, a safer alternative to boat racing.

“For us, the Shootout is a family event. We enjoy getting our family and close friends together, and spending the week preparing for and running in the Shootout,” Don said. “We also really enjoy the fans. We have had fans tell us they are at the Shootout just to see our boat run, and that is really special to us.”

With more than 20 patents to his name, Don’s greatest asset is his innovative thinking. He believes that it isn’t good enough to be a success; he wants to do it in a way that no one else has thought of. Don is the owner of Onken's Incorporated, a manufacturer of steel containers used in grease and oil recycling and storage, Onken’s American Recyclers, a glass recycling start up, and previous owner of Oil Filter Recyclers, Inc, the largest oil filter recycler in the United States.

Don and his wife of 57 years, Bonnie, have had a Lake home since the mid-90s. They reside in Easton, Ill. The couple has two sons, JR and JD (Amy), and four grandchildren.

American Ethanol docked before a race.

Q&A with Don

Favorite thing to do at the Lake?

Enjoy time with family and friends. 

Hobbies?

Boat engines, classic cars, inventing and spending time with grandchildren. 

Why this particular boat?

American Ethanol is a 51-foot Mystic Powerboat specially made with an enclosed cockpit to race at high speeds with safety in mind. 

Why did you purchase it?

I feel that Mystic Powerboats currently has the safest, fastest hull design in the world. 

What do you like most about it?

The challenge of doing things that no one else is doing and the excitement of the crowds at the Shootout. 

About American Ethanol

Make/Model: 2013 Mystic Capsulized Carbon Fiber Boat Length: 51 feet Fuel: Renegade E85 Ethanol  Top Speed: 217 mph in 2016 Shootout Driver: Tony Battiato, mechanic at Lake of the Ozarks Throttleman: John Cosker, owner of Mystic Powerboats, of DeLand, Fla.

Don Onken with one of the engines.

Shootout Wins

2020: 202 mph (3/4 mi. course)

2019: 201 mph (3/4 mi. course)

2018: 204 mph (3/4 mi. course)

2017: 204 mph (3/4 mi. course)

2016: 217 mph (1 mi. course)

2015: 208 mph (1 mi. course)

2008 – 2017 Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Undefeated in Class

Don Onken was inducted into the Shootout Hall of Fame.

Other Notable Wins

2017 GLOC Performance Boat Challenge Top Gun, 200mph (3/4 mi. course)

2016 GLOC Performance Boat Challenge Top Gun, 206mph (1 mi. course)

Rookie of the Year in 1991 when he was racing the Mr. Goodwrench 38’ Bertram.