Top O'Michigan Outboard Marathon

Starting point: DeVoe Beach, Indian River

After more than 70 years in existence the Top O’ Michigan Outboard Marathon National Championship is a legendary boat racing experience that has been shared by hundreds of racers and countless thousands of spectators.

The 2022 race will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13 and 14. During those two days, drivers from all across the U.S.A. will put a beating on both boats and bodies as they race through the rivers and lakes in the Inland Water Route.

Top O’ Michigan is highly competitive. In the 2021 race the top three drivers in the C Class went back and forth during the entire 40-mile race and were less than a minute apart. While the race is competitive, it’s a friendly competition. For both drivers and spectators, the race ends up being something of an annual reunion. In the pit area before and after the race, it’s not at all uncommon to see drivers both active and retired, young and old sharing race stories. Many of the thousands of spectators who line the shorelines plan vacations around the race. Community members and local law enforcement agencies assist in patrol boats to help make the race safe and help racers when they break down. Over the decades, the race has become part of the area’s culture.

The race starts and finishes at DeVoe Beach each day, but takes a different course. Saturday’s race goes up to Cheboygan and back. Following a short run out to a turn buoy in Burt Lake, racers come back through the entire Indian River, run down the Mullett Lake shoreline to a turn buoy at Topinabee, make what is in some years a brutal, wave-tossed excursion through Mullett Lake to the Cheboygan River, go through the Cheboygan River to just past the Lincoln Street Bridge and then retrace their path back to DeVoe Beach.

On Sunday, racers go across Burt Lake in open water racing to a turn buoy near the high banks, then up the shoreline to the mouth of the Crooked River. After making their way through the twists and turns at the bottom end of the river, racers emerge into Crooked Lake at the locks in Alanson. They then take a turn and make their way to a turn buoy in Conway and come back down the far shore of the lake back to the locks.

After coming back across Burt Lake the boats go through the Indian River and out into Mullett Lake before coming back into the Indian River and into the home stretch to the DeVoe Beach finish line.

Unlike closed-course races that go round and round in laps on a single lake or river, the Top O’ Michigan race is a marathon with a little bit of everything: open water on Burt, Mullett and Crooked Lakes that can be pleasant enough to skim across at full throttle or have white capped waves that pound boats and drivers just trying to finish the race. The Indian, Cheboygan and Crooked Rivers include tight turns where drivers move forward in the cockpit and lean to bring boats around and also have straight stretches where drivers slide to the back of the boat, crouch down, squeeze the throttle and feel the rush as the boat accelerates.

The race is family-oriented with a shorter class for young Junior Class racers. Many of the adult racers are men and women who started as junior class racers or are second generation racers following in the path of their parents before them.

The race is organized by the Top O’ Michigan Outboard Racing Club, a group of volunteers that meets throughout the year and spends many hours doing the work necessary to have the race carry on as a northern Michigan tradition.