KEY WEST -- Offshore powerboat racers honored two Missouri comrades who lost their lives during the first of three race days at the Key West World Championship.
About 200 racers, officials and supporters gathered Thursday in the dry pits to remember 74-year-old Robert M. Morgan of Sunrise Beach and 47-year-old Jeffrey Tillman of Kaiser.
They died Wednesday when their 46-foot catamaran Big Thunder Marine went airborne and violently crashed during a race inside Key West Harbor.
Team members wearing Big Thunder shirts sat near Morgan’s widow, Sue. She clutched a large bouquet of flowers during the memorial and spoke briefly at the conclusion of the service, thanking those who came to honor her husband and Tillman.
The memorial was officiated by the Rev. Jim Black of Racing Performance Ministries under a large tent normally used for race-day drivers’ meetings. It was the same venue where Morgan and Tillman had sat Wednesday morning listening to officials discuss the race course and conditions.
“To all of you involved in this sport, this is one of the times that we’re stunned,” said Black, who spoke about the fragility of life and the risks that powerboat racers face and accept. “Will we race again? Of course -- we’re racers. It’s what we do.”
Racing is to continue today with the finals set for Sunday.
Funeral arrangements for both men have not yet been finalized, according to John Carbonell, president of Super Boat International, the event’s sanctioning body.
Racers and fans were shocked by the two men’s deaths, which marred the beginning of the championship series. The event had attracted 61 boats, with teams from the U.S., Australia, Italy, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom and Ukraine.
Five racers died in Key West world championship events during the 1980s and 1990s, but there had been no deaths since 1995, Carbonell said.