Tuesday, June 23, 2009
A 52-year-old Kingsbury man was killed Saturday when his drag racing power boat crashed at 140 m.p.h. in a race on a lake near St. Louis, Mo. Fred Welshans, president of St. Louis Drag Boat Racing Association, said Jim Tucker was killed when his open power boat, “Say When,” lurched and then dipped bow-first into the water as it approached the end of a qualifying run Saturday afternoon for the 30th Annual Budweiser Creve Coeur Lake Drag Boat Classic. “We don’t know what happened,” Welshans said Monday. “The boat was on a good run. It just got a little squirrelly at the top end, the front of the boat got in the water a little bit and it tore off the top deck. It got tore up pretty bad, and he got caught in it. Only God knows what happened after that.” Tucker, a 20-year veteran competitor who was the 2008 International Hot Boat Racing Association’s “Pro Eliminator” class world champion, was thrown from the boat and was believed to have suffered head injuries and a number of broken bones. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital shortly after the accident. The wreckage was recovered, Welshans said, but a preliminary look on Saturday revealed no clues as to how the accident occurred. “We retrieved the entire bottom of the boat, and all his hardware — the rudder, the propeller, the safety gear — was all there, intact,” Welshans said. Investigators will work to determine what caused the crash and whether the accident could have been prevented. “There’ll be guys looking to see what happened,” he said. Welshans said Tucker’s death was the first in the event’s three-decade history — and a tragedy that rocked the drag boat racing community in the Midwest and Southwest where Tucker competed.
“This was a great guy,” Welshans said. “We’ve just lost one of our family. That’s how we see it. This is a sad day.” Tucker has raced in the event since 2003. His boat was an open-cockpit “Pro Eliminator” that competed in the fastest open class sanctioned at the St. Louis Drag Boat Racing Association event. The boats are permitted any piston-driven power plant a racer can mount in a hull. “They can be blown (supercharged), naturally aspirated, you can run anything you want, said Welshans, who is himself a drag boat racer. “The only thing you can’t do is run nitromethane (fuel).” Tucker’s boat, named after a famous line from a showdown in a Western movie, was powered by a 496 cubic-inch Chevy big block that burned alcohol. In spite of the safety measures employed in the construction of the boats and the running of the events — which always include emergency divers to effect quick rescues — the sport is an unforgiving one when things go wrong. “I’ve been racing boats for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of it,” Welshans said. “It’s a bad thing. You don’t like losing your friends and your racers, but we all think about the same way. None of us thinks it’ll never happen to us. But we had a guy get killed up here on a local sprint car track this weekend, and guys play football and break their necks and die at that. I’ve always been a hot rodder. It’s a challenge, and I’ve always liked speed. It’s just a passion. Adrenaline junkies is what we are.” And the race continued, Welshans said, after a meeting in which other competitors agreed Tucker would have wanted the event to go on without him. “There were still a line of racers standing in line behind him,” Welshans said. “I would like to give special thanks for all Jim’s Texas fans who came up here, and I’m sorry for the loss. We all know this can happen.” And so did his wife, Yvonne Tucker. “Nobody has to feel badly for Jimmy,” she said. “I’m sorry to lose him, but if I’ve got to lose him, I’m glad he went that way, doing what he loves. How many of us get to do that?”