At the 2006 Jacksonville River Rally and Poker Run, more than 120 of the most elite vessels in high-performance boating gathered. One was the 44-foot No. 15 Fountain raceboat with an enclosed cockpit and pair of high-horsepower Sterling Performance engines. Strapped in and decked out in full race gear were myself on the throttles and driver Ben Robertson.
We were on a mission. In one of the helicopters overhead was Reggie Fountain Jr., founder and CEO of Fountain Powerboats. He had a videographer with him. The plan was simple. Our factory-backed entry Cat Killer would beat all the other entries to the first card stop, and we would have video to prove it. A poker run is not a race, but at the biggest events, which Jacksonville qualifies as, being the first boat to the first card stop earns serious bragging rights.
The video footage shows our stepped vee-bottom catching and passing the fast catamarans at the front of the fleet. We even slowed down to let them catch us so we could outrun them again. “It was to show our true superiority without question in vee-bottoms, and in some cases we could outrun a cat with a vee-bottom,” said Reggie on the video that Fountain Powerboats produced after the run. “At the start of that poker run, there were probably 125 or 150 boats, and we outran them all.”
Of course, the drivers of the cats saw it from a different angle, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. The video accomplished what Reggie and I set out to do when we came up with a plan over dinner one night in 2005.
I was president of Fountain Powerboats at the time. I had come to work for the company after getting to know Reggie when I started racing in the Factory 2 class in 1999.
We were trying to double sales and make a major impact on the marine community. Instead of worrying about the other builders of high-performance vee-bottoms, I thought we should think bigger, something that was never a problem for Reggie. We decided to go after catamarans, and then Reggie’s gears started turning. He said, “What if we took a 47 and did this and did that?”
We cut down the freeboard and removed the bow flare and swim platform on one of our 47-foot enclosed cockpit raceboats, resulting in a low-profile 44-footer. In initial testing, the boat had twin 1,075-hp Mercury Racing SCi engines with Number Six drives. Then Reggie persuaded Mike D’Anniballe, president of Sterling Performance in Pontiac, Mich., to build a pair of 1,600-hp engines for the boat.
Mike Seebold and I started running the boat in offshore powerboat races with me throttling and Mike driving. We were out there in the ocean competing against everyone to see where we stacked up, and we were taking first overall against all the vee-bottoms and catamarans.
Next, Reggie came up with the idea of taking the boat to a poker run — and calling her Cat Killer. The concept behind Cat Killer was to shake the industry, ruffle some feathers and get people talking.
The idea for shooting video was pure Reggie. Years earlier, in a video that played for years at boat shows, Reggie was racing against actor Don Johnson. Reggie was heard on that video saying, “Bye-bye, movie star.” In the footage from the Jacksonville run, he is heard saying, “Since there aren’t any movie stars here, bye-bye pussycat,” as Cat Killer pulled away from a catamaran and got up to speed.
In 2007, Mike and I returned to Key West and won first overall in what would turn out to be my last race in Cat Killer. The following year, Ben and I were battling to be the first boat to run under the Tappan Zee bridge on the Hudson River during the King of the Hudson poker run. I had the drives trimmed high to stay ahead of those fast cats in the calm river water, and we were losing water pressure. Finally, at close to 180 mph, the port engine seized in a hard shutdown. Ben tapped into all of his racing experience to keep the boat from swapping ends. He saved our necks. We were the first vee-bottom to the bridge but had to give credit to the cat that beat us that day.
Reggie and I already knew we had some of the most loyal customers in the performance-boat game, but we weren’t expecting the sales increase among center- console buyers, especially tournament anglers. They were paying close attention to racing, even closer than I thought.
That’s the segment that exploded in 2006 and 2007, and carried into 2008. When we talked to fishermen, they said they were interested in the ride and efficiency of our stepped bottom because the design saved them fuel expenses when fishing.
Sales at that time were at $52 million, and by the time the Cat Killer thing was rolling, we were at $80 million. I’d go to boat shows, and the Cat Killer video was playing in the background, and the public was all over it. At the 2007 Miami show, we took $17 million in orders over four days.
All things being equal, can a vee-bottom outrun a cat? Who knows, but we had a hell of a time, and our game plan worked.
David Knight worked for Fountain Powerboats from 2004 to 2008. He competed in the Super Boat International and American Power Boat Association circuits, winning five national championships and five world championships. Knight also holds a world speed record.
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.