I was down in the Keys to see the races, and unfortunately, the racer who we were connected with, Jeff Tillman, passed away after this accident. They were driving Big Thunder 100, which apparently was running with an all-new hull. It weighed 18,000 lbs and had nearly 5,000 horsepower. The Key West races ultimately cost another racer later in the weekend as a driver succumbed to injuries in a race two days later, making for three deaths in as many days.
I’d never been to the races, and obviously the specter of having someone die completely changed the entire event for everyone. I was there as a guest of Tillman and Big Thunder, but as it turned out, had not gone down to the races that day. I have to say that the show is incredible. Sound, speed, sights, amazing. Obviously, though, something needs to be sorted to have different results.
I also enjoyed not really knowing what was going on, spending so much time in other racing environments where I feel more comfortable. In that way–in also in the sound, speed, paddock set up, it reminded me of going to the Reno Air Race last year, which of course this year also turned deadly with that accident this year.
I happened to sit next to the crew chief for Big Thunder on the flight out of Key West. He was obviously still shaken by the whole thing, having had to not just deal with the loss, but also too the grim aftermath of still packing everything up and tearing down the paddock. He knew the boats owner (Throttle man), who also died in the accident and he kept saying that “the boat was good, we didn’t need to be pushing that hard. We were fine for second place and it was only a half points race…I don’t know why he was being so aggressive.” Of course, with this and Wheldon’s accident, that same question-pushing so hard so early in an event- is so tough to deal with, and seems so clear in the space of retrospect.
In any case, a very sad way to be introduced to a sport. I’m sorry I never actually got to meet Tillman.