MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 - Our first trip the the Powerboat Nationals in Kankakee, Illinois was an eye-opening experience in more than one way. The lasting impression I will take away from the event is how most of us in the sport travel to the races each week with minimal fears that something real bad is going to happen. Yes, we worry about wrecking and the fear that going upside down carries with it, but most drivers have an on-board breathing air system so if you get trapped in the boat under water you can survive until the divers get you out. In fact, I personally have added more than 10 pounds of weight to our boat - a sacrifice I insist to make - in order to have air to breath in one of those situations.
We witnessed probably 20 wrecked boats in the three days we were at the five-day-long event. I had never seen a boat blow over in person until Saturday morning when Chip Wavro's #10 boat just took off like a jet leaving O'Hare Airport. While coming to the checkered flag on his qualifying lap it just lifted off and seemed like it was elevating in slow motion before blowing over upside down into the water. Chip got out OK, but I heard it wasn't easy for him to get unbuckled and swim out. About an hour later, Brent Dillard barrel-rolled his #80 boat within feet of our boat in Turn 2, he too going upside down and under the waters of the Kankakee. Brent wears an air mask so he was OK and had the air he needed to get out OK. (Attached is a photo of Chip's boat after his blowover and video of Brent's crash can be seen on our Facebook link on the front page of the website.)
Just as our boats were preparing to load into the water for our national championship race on Sunday afternoon, a major crash took place in the SST-120 qualifying heats in Turns 3 and 4. A boat shot across two other boats and then shot up the riverbank and rocketed about 100 feet into a golf course at full speed. The driver, a veteran pilot from California, had to be cut from the boat by rescue workers and left the site unconscious with multiple injuries. We heard early this morning that he was flown to a trauma center in Chicago and his condition was very, very critical. Please pray for this driver and his family, some of whom had to witness his terrible crash which also sent a second pilot to a local hospital by ambulance.
The races were delayed more than an hour as the debris was cleared and the race officials were able to compose everything together. All the time I am sitting there ready to back the trailer into the water as our crew chief Jeramey Wentz is assisting rescue personnel pick up the pieces. I had plenty of time to reflect on what had just happened and what is really important in life.
I know it is rare that a racer in a major racing series is killed or critically injured. When Dale Earnhardt died several years ago I really had some trouble sleeping that night as I kept rewinding the wreck in my mind. I just thought about how one minute he was here and the next he was gone. I wasn't an Earnhardt fan, but I just felt a tremendous loss that night. I felt the same way about Kenny Irwin Jr. when he died at New Hampshire and when Adam Petty died when his racing career was just getting started. There is sometimes no warning when your time comes, when your life may be altered completely or even lost.
The driver who was badly injured on Sunday wasn't someone I personally knew as he does not race in the same touring series that I race in, but I do know the two other boat pilots in the wreck so it hit pretty close to home. In fact the one driver is someone I talk to every weekend at the race track and who I had waved at and gave a thumbs-up signal to just 20 minutes earlier as her boat was being backed into the water for the start of her race. Thankfully, she was released from the hospital early this morning and will recover to race again, but the one driver injured faces a much longer and harder road to recovery.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I feel led to tell you that tomorrow isn't a guarantee. It could be a car wreck, a heart attack or who knows what. I hope you will examine your life every now and again and ask yourself if today was the last day are you OK with your life's decisions. In short, is Jesus Christ a part of your life and if He isn't, I urge you to seek Him?
I know that I will probably take a few less risks in the future and I spent today with my wife and daughter, thinking about how precious life is and how blessed I am to be able to live the life that I live.