Fans of the Augusta Southern Nationals drag boat races are mourning the death of New Jersey racer John Hipwell, who died Sunday on Lake Yosemite, Calif., after his top fuel hydro boat spiraled out of control while traveling at more than 200 mph.
Hipwell, who won the 2003 and 2004 drag boat races in Augusta, died from severe head injuries associated with the impact of the crash, according to reports published in the Merced Sun-Star newspaper.
Dayton Sherrouse, chairman of the Augusta Southern Nationals, said the tragedy was a loss for Augusta and other cities that hold the popular drag boat events.
"Anytime that happens, it has a dampening effect on the whole sport," he said. "Even though it's dangerous - and everyone realizes it's dangerous - you're never prepared for something like this."
Sherrouse said Hipwell, 47, was a longtime participant in Augusta, and had made many friends in the community.
"He was definitely well-known here, and well liked. When he first started racing, his boat was the Triple Digit, and it was sponsored locally by Fox Appliance Parts. It's a real shock to have lost him."
Paul Adams of Augusta, who serves as announcer and media liaison for the local races, said Hipwell's death was the first fatality for the International Hot Boat Association during its seven-year history.
"It's a tragedy and it's also a big blow to powerboat racing," he said.
According to the Sun-Star's account of the accident, Mr. Hipwell's boat - Team Madness - disintegrated during the crash, briefly submerging the sealed driver's capsule until it was recovered by rescue crews. About 6,000 spectrators were present at Sunday's event.
Jerry Kutz, a fellow racer who went on to win Sunday's Michelob Ultra California Finals, closed the ceremony by dedicating his team's trophy to Hipwell, the Sun-Star reported.