One driver learns that at 200mph water isn’t as soft as it looks

My busy schedule hasn’t allowed me to shoot one of my favorite sports, Drag Boat Racing, in over a year so when I actually had a few days off, with the worlds fastest boats in town, it was an event I was not gonna miss. Some of my favorite career photos have taken place while covering the 250mph fiberglass boats skipping across the water, this weekend would provide me more wild images. Continue reading to see the catastrophic results of a 200mph right turn!

Drag boat racers, unlike land drag racing, are faced with numerous obstacles that can’t be planned for. Whether that is wind (bad), rough water (bad) or parts failure (bad) the results of such situations can be a very painful and sometimes fatal.

Unlike land drag racing where drives can see lines and walls showing their lanes, water drag racers guide their boats between buoys marking the course.

Thursday practice was very boring and brought only one image that I didn’t hate.

The below driver got about as close as you can get to a buoy without hitting it (bad).

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/2000th

Friday qualifying was also pretty boring for me with only a few pictures that weren’t total crap.

Any combination of rough water conditions or getting on the gas too hard can result in the boat bouncing around like a wild bull such as the below shot.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Like their land counterparts, the faster drag boats rely on parachutes to slow down after a run. Normally the parachutes are hidden in the water from view but once in awhile you get lucky and catch a quick glimpse of every drivers friend.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Saturday would be the day that made it all worth while.

The water of Firebird Lake contains a higher consentration of salt than the worlds oceans, yet you still see numerous birds flying around the desert mecca.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

While only two boats race at a time making it easier to get crashes, you still have a 50% chance of following the wrong boat when the other crashes. That happened to me today as one of the slower category boats (90mph) driven by Randy White lost control and spun out at the finish line tossing the racer into the water.

I saw the crash occurring out of the corner of my eye and threw the camera over and started shooting. Too bad the cameras focusing didn’t react as fast as my trigger finger.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Rescue personnel were quickly on the scene and scooped White up and took him ashore where he was tended to by medical personnel.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

A short while later it was time for the worlds fastest race boats as the 8000 horsepower top fuel hydros took to the water. These boats are capable of speeds of over 260mph kicking up roostertails over water for over 100 yards behind them.

John Haas (left) takes on Glenn Wilson during qualifying.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

On the next pass Jarrett Silvey made a good run and as he slowed to a stop the boat kicked up a wall of water that he drove through.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

After coming to a stop some flames trickled from the exhaust pipes but were quickly splashed out by a rescue member.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

The next pass (I didn’t know at the time) would end up being one of the wildest sequences I have shot in my 18 years of shooting boat racing.

Scotty Lumbert was in the far lane with James Ray in the near lane. Luckily for me right off the starting line Lumbert broke so it eliminated the chance of me following the wrong boat.

As Ray neared the finish line the boat bounced around a bit, nothing too unusual for these type boats though.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Just when I thought he was gonna be fine, the boat began turning right (VERY bad at over 200mph!)

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Like a bad snowboarder (me) the boat caught an edge and flipped over.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

In the faster boats such as this, the driver is strapped into an airtight capsule. While in a perfect situation  the capsule will maintain integrity and float on top of the water after a crash. While that is the plan sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and the capsule opens or sinks, fortunately the drivers helmet is connected to a tank with 15 minutes of air to breath in the event of submerging in the water.

In the below photo you can see the capsule on the left separating from the boat (good).

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

I will shut up now and let the photos do the talking as the boat disintegrated in a matter of seconds.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

With the capsule containing the driver skipping off the water behind he shattered boat it caught air and did a backflip.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

By the time the high speed crash came to an end the boat was in thousands of pieces scattered across the water.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

The capsule did its job and stayed shut and floated in the water (on left)

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

The rescue crew was quick on the scene and hoisted the capsule from the water to take to a waiting ambulance positioned near the end of the track.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

The driver James Ray had broken his back in an accident just over a year ago so the medics were very careful as they slowly extricated him from the capsule to a waiting medevac helicopter to transport him to a local hospital for x-rays and further evaluation.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Here are some of the raw uncropped photos from the sequence. Much more full frame and I woulda been cutting out important parts and pieces. I’ll take good luck over skill any day.

Here is video shot by my father Gil Rebilas of the crash.

James Ray crash by Gil Rebilas

After the hour long cleanup it was back to more racing.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

During a bit of downtime I got bored and aimed the camera straight up and shot a plane flying several miles overhead.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

One of the rescue boats had a habit of blocking my view periodically, below is an example of being boat blocked.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Drag boat racers take a great deal of pride in their machines with big shiny engines and beautifully painted machines.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

During a break in the drag boat action they raced circle boats (like NASCAR on water)

On the first lap the racers ran very close.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

As it got later in the afternoon the light became amazing on the boats as they raced.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Unlike land racers, if a boat breaks down or stops on course they are much harder to start back up and require a tow from jet skis or boats which can sometimes take forever.

Below top alcohol hydro driver Terry Blattler waits for a tow.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

The top fuel hydros came out just before sunset for their final round of qualifying. The light was stellar and it was just dark enough that you could see the exhaust flames shooting out.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

Jarrett Silvey made a great dusk run with header flames shooting over the boat.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/1250th

On the last pass of the day Scotty Lumbert made a great run, the reflection of the flames looked prety damn sweet I must say.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 3200iso, f4, 1/1000th

And with that my only boat race of the year was over. I wish I could go back tomorrow for eliminations but I have to shoot an NFL game in Phoenix between the Cardinals and the Giants.

I obviously had a pretty productive day so you won’t hear any complaining from me!

Here are a few tearsheets (Many more to come!)

Sports Illustrated

Performance Boats Magazine

8 page photo layout!

Drag Racing Online

Deadspin.com

picture-7

boatcrashnorwegian

Focus Magazine (Italy)

focusmagazinetearsheet

55 Responses to “One driver learns that at 200mph water isn’t as soft as it looks”

  1. KRISTA says:

    IMPRESSIVE WORK!

  2. [...] just decentigrated in a split second. Check out Mark Rebilas’ web blog for photo account here. Tagged as: Phoenix, Race Track, Tempe, wheelchair [...]

  3. [...] is that I tend to not shoot early enough or long enough, something I noticed sports photographer Mark Rebilas is very good at, a guy who inspired the style and layout for this blog. (In an effort to get just the right moment [...]

  4. Irv Pond says:

    Will purchase the picture of Mark Workentine’s crash in Whiskey River at San Diego

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