John Haas guided Speed Sports Special to victory in the 2010 Augusta Southern Nationals and set national and Savannah River course records with his time of 3.722 seconds and top speed of 209.147 mph.
Less than a month later, the 55-year-old Haas was killed in an accident while qualifying for a drag boat race on Oklahoma's Grand River.
This weekend's Southern Nationals, which are being held for the 26th consecutive year, are dedicated to Haas. With victories in Augusta in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010, he is the event's only four-time champion.
"John loved being here. We all miss him," said Ken Dollar, director of the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series. "He died doing what he loved to do."
The Michigan racer understood the perils of drag boat racing, Dollar said. He added that safety measures have greatly improved in the last 15 years, but accidents can still happen with boats surpassing 200 mph.
About 90 to 95 racers are expected for this weekend's events, Dollar said. Today is test and tune day on the Savannah River, and the racing will be held Saturday and Sunday.
A Night of Fire will be held tonight at Augusta Common beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
Eight of the 11 classes feature quarter-mile races, while the fastest three classes are limited to a 1,000-foot course for safety. The elimination-style races feature plenty of action.
"The quickest one to the finish line races again, and the losers go home," Dollar said.
The top two top fuel hydro boats are racing this weekend. The Spirit of Texas, driven by Scotty Lumbert, holds a lead over Problem Child in the national points standings.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Georgia Special Olympics.