Two racers were injured and several powerboats damaged when Wednesday’s opener of the 34th annual Key West World Championship turned into a marine version of a demolition derby.
Driver Mike Figuero of Satellite Beach and throttleman Frank Sarro of Palm Bay flipped upside down in their 30-foot Superboat Vee-class entry, and J.D. Byrider flipped on turn three late in the first race and had to be pulled out by rescue divers. Figuero was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, where he was in stable condition, according to a crew member. Sarro was treated and released from Lower Keys Medical Center.
Then at the start of the Superboat Unlimited race, several boats had a mash-up in Key West Harbor, where Lucas Oil Silverhook barrel-rolled and the others bumped into each other. The Lucas boat rolled back upright, sparing driver Shelley Jory of England and throttleman Nigel Hook of San Diego from injury.
“That was the gentlest, safest barrel roll I’ve ever done,” Jory said later. “Better than a roller coaster ride.”
While the other boats were tangled up, the Unlimited class’ eventual winner, CMS03, and runner-up, Miss Geico, were already way ahead of the fray and locked in a tight duel for several laps. Eventually, CMS03, throttled by John Tomlinson of Miami and driven by Jeff Harris of Greenville, N.C., pulled decisively away, beating the defending world champions by just under a minute with an average speed of 101.36 miles per hour.
“We didn’t have to push it too hard,” Tomlinson said of his 48-foot MTI with twin 1,350-horsepower engines. “It wasn’t very rough — little rollers out there. We got out front early, so we didn’t get involved in everyone else’s problems.”
Tomlinson’s teammates in the larger CMS3 boat were forced to drop out after they got caught in the mess at the start.
“We’ll try to put it back together in time to race Friday,” said CMS3 throttleman Randy Scism of St. Louis.
Wednesday’s other class winners were Stihl in Superboat; Hooters Instigator in Superboat Extreme; Snowy Mountain Brewery in Superboat Vee; Talbot Excavating in Superboat Stock; Black Pearl in Manufacturer Production3; and Two Cruel in Manufacturer Production4.
The worlds resume Friday at 10a.m. in Key West Harbor, with the final competition Sunday.
A race village with grandstands, food and souvenir booths, and wet and dry pits are set up at the Truman Waterfront at the foot of Southard Street. Other popular viewing areas are Mallory Square and various waterfront hotels.