Michigan top fuel hydro racer John Haas -- who piloted his Speed Sport Special to victory in the 25th annual Augusta Southern Nationals -- was killed Saturday when his boat disintegrated during a race on Oklahoma's Grand River.
"We're just in shock," said Dayton Sherrouse, the chairman of the Southern Nationals. "It is very, very sad."
The 55-year-old racing veteran, who also won the Augusta event in 2005, 2007 and 2009, died instantly after his dragboat hit a small wave during a qualifying round at the Mid America Summer Nationals in Chouteau, Okla.
Haas had been part of the national dragboat racing circuit more than 30 years and had set many records as the driver of Speed Sport Special, owned by Lou Osman, of St. Louis. He was also the defending national champion in the Lucas Oil Dragboat Racing Series.
"He had been coming here a long time, even before he raced with Lou," Sherrouse said. "This year, after he won, there was a long line of kids wanting to get pictures taken with him and get T-shirts signed. He was very patient and nice to all of them."
During the final round of the Southern Nationals on July 18, Haas posted a time of 2.722 seconds, winning the event and setting a national and Savannah River record for the course, which was shortened this year from 1,360 yards to 1,000 yards for safety reasons.
On Saturday, according to a story in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press , Haas had just crossed the finish line and was traveling 217 mph as the boat came apart. The reinforced safety capsule used in the top-fuel dragboats spiraled about 30 feet into the air and landed upside down and backward.
Haas died of internal injuries, authorities said.
Haas, who was scheduled for induction into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in November, is the second top fuel hydro driver to die in racing accidents after winning at Augusta.
New Jersey racer John Hipwell, who won the Augusta event in 2003 and 2004, was killed in October 2004 when his top fuel hydro boat spiraled out of control at more than 200 mph during a race on Lake Yosemite in Merced, Calif.