KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - A single-boat rollover accident during the second of three race days at the Key West World Championship Friday left one Florida racer in critical condition and his partner admitted to a local hospital.
Joey Gratton of University Park, Fla., was listed in critical condition and was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center, a race official said. Stephen L. Page of Fort Myers, the boat's owner and driver, was admitted to Lower Keys Medical Center and was in good condition.
The accident came two days after two other racers, from Missouri, were killed when their 46-foot catamaran Big Thunder Marine crashed during a race inside Key West Harbor.
Both offshore racers injured Friday were piloting Page Motorsports, a 38-foot Superboat 850-class boat. They were pushing hard to keep up with J.D. Byrider, piloted by Ohio racers Tony Marcantonio of Dover, and Mark Kowalski of Hinkley.
During the final lap of the seven-lap race, the Page boat overturned at checkpoint 1, on the southwest corner of the 6.5-mile course.
"It was the classic rollover type of accident; something we've seen before at turns," said John Carbonell, president of Super Boat International, the event's sanctioning body. "We're investigating the accident, but preliminarily it appears they may have gone into the turn a bit too fast."
Page was able to extricate himself from the boat, but rescue divers had to get Gratton out. Carbonell was awaiting medical and safety reports before providing further details on rescue efforts, but said medical boats are positioned at turns, because of the potential for accidents.
At the time of the incident, sustained winds were about 15 mph, with gusts to 23 mph, according to forecasters at the Key West National Weather Service. Wave heights were about 2 to 3 feet.
The accident followed a crash during Wednesday's first day of racing that killed Robert M. Morgan of Sunrise Beach, Mo., and Jeffrey Tillman of Kaiser, Mo. They were the throttleman and driver respectively, piloting Big Thunder Marine. Wednesday's crash caused some racers to adjust their strategies on Friday.
"It was a terrible tragedy and everybody had it on their minds," said Randy Scism of Wentzville, Mo., throttleman for the CMS boat that has the lead in the Superboat Unlimited standings.
Scism said he and owner/driver Bob Bull of Macks Creek, Mo., set up CMS very conservatively to maximize control rather than speed during the second race day.
The strategy succeeded and the duo repeated their Wednesday class victory, turning in an average speed of 117.58 mph.
The fastest time in the race was posted by Miss Geico, the lone turbine entry, driven by Marc Granet and throttled by Scott Begovich, both of Riviera Beach, Fla., who averaged 118.31 mph.
"The wind's been a factor this week with a lot of boats, and it wasn't as bad today as it was Wednesday," Begovich said. "But when you come around that bend where the (Big Thunder) accident happened, all of us were much more conservative today than we were on Wednesday."
Carbonell said that despite the accidents, the finals of the event would be staged Sunday as planned.
"This is the world championship and they (the racers) hang it out a little more because it is a prestigious event," Carbonell said. "It's a tough course and hard to race."
Online: Key West World Championship, http://www.superboat.com
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