Every summer boat racers from around the country converge on Augusta, Georgia for the Augusta Southern Nationals. I missed the last two years due to covering the 2007 Pan Am Games in Brazil and missed 2008 due to the Olympics in China but this year I was hell bent on heading east to cover one of the crown jewels of drag boat racing.

Jennifer decided to tag along for the weekend so everything was in place for a fun weekend down south with my partner in crime. Friday was just a test and tune day so not much really went on, nothing worth showing at least, lets move on to Saturday.

After experiencing Waffle House for the first time we got to the track just as they were loading the Top Fuel Hydros into the water. Top fuel hydros are the fastest propeller driven boats on Earth, capable of traversing the liquid quarter mile in under five seconds at speeds over 250mph. On top of being incredibly fast, they are also incredibly dangerous. If you have seen the post from my last boat race you know that when things go wrong they can go wrong big time.

As the boats were loaded into the water I shot a few photos of long time racer Scotty Lumbert strapped in the cockpit of his boat “Spirit of Texas.”


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/2000th

Below, using my fisheye lens I stood on the edge of a wall overlooking the in ramp and held the camera out over the water directly above the boat to get a cool angle as he was towed to the starting line.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/8000th

I have slowly been working on getting Jennifer to become a Nikon girl. Below she models some of my gear as we stood on a floating dock a few hundred yards past the finish line waiting for the fast boats to run.


Ok time for the fast boats.

For this race there were only five top fuel boats. I was hoping for closer to eight but oh well, I have been to races with three so I wasn’t about to complain.

First pair up featured world champion John Haas (left) alongside Scotty Lumbert.  Below, heat waves fill the air as both drivers launched off the starting line.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Things made a turn for the worse (literally) as Lumberts boat bounced and made a hard right turn towards Haas.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

By this point he was completely out of control as the boat got closer and closer to rolling over.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Haas was having no problems as he thundered down the track with Lumbert out of control behind.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Below you can see the biggest problem with shooting drag boats. The rooster tail of water being kicked up from one boat commonly blocks your view of the other boat.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

By this point the greatest crash of all time could be occurring at this point and nobody would know since it was behind a gigantic wall of water! I waited for Lumberts crashing boat to come out the other side of the water but it never happened.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

As I waited for the water to settle so I could see where Lumberts boat was, I fully expected to see the boat in pieces all over the surface. Everyone was surprised to see the boat floating on the water seemingly in one piece.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Below, rescue boats were quickly on the scene and Lumbert climbed into the rescue boat (left) as his boat sunk from the big hole in the left side sponson.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Back on dry land Lumbert was greeted by happy friends and family.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Rescue personnel slowly brought the damaged boat back in to the ramp.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/5000th

The rescue boat couldn’t bring the boat in any further so a rope was attached to the front of the boat and a congo line of people in the water pulled the boat the rest of the way in and onto the trailer to be removed from the water.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/2500th

While blocked from view during the crash the boat actually rolled over and ripped a big hole in the side of the boat. Once out of the water it was hard to miss the gaping hole in the boat. Looks like Jaws took a bite out of it.


Canon G10, 80iso, f7.1, 1/400th

During this whole process all the other drivers on the water waiting to run had plenty of time to relax in their capsules such as top alcohol hydro driver Andy Reynolds (below).


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

While the drivers got their relax on so did I (below).


Photo by Jennifer Stewart

Finally back to racing Ron McLelland (below) made a perfect run down the Savannah River.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/3200th

The biggest thing I hate about drag boat racing is all the downtime in the day. One thing to do with that downtime is look for other random things to photograph.

Below, ducks swim by as boats idle to the starting line between races.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/4000th

Fans cover their ears as top fuel boats warm up in the pit area.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/6400th


Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/320th

While walking to a different shooting spot I noticed my longtime friend and fellow photographer Joe Dutra about to be loaded into the water to get his drag boat license. Shooting through the front window of the truck that was lowering him into the water provided a nice framing effect for the shot, the awesome late afternoon light didn’t hurt either!


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1250th

Below I underexposed by a few stops to get a nice rim lighting effect as the top alcohol hydro driven by Mike Robbins was towed via jet ski after breaking during his final qualifying run.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/6400th

Below, top alcohol hydro driver Kent Price races down track during the final round of qualifying.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th

Below top fuel hydro driver Jarrett Silvey sits in the water prior to being towed to the starting line.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 500iso, f4, 1/8000th

At the hit of the throttle instead of jumping out of the water as these boats are supposed to do the front end of Silveys boat dug into the water.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/4000th

Silvey stayed on the throttle slightly too long and the entire boat dove completely underwater leaving a splash of water that looked like a depth charge going off.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/4000th

The boat popped back up to the surface and promptly sunk.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/3200th

Silvey was fine but as with all drivers involved with crashes he was put on a stretcher and checked out by medics.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/250th

Below is a photo illustration by good friend Dustin Snipes showing how it may have looked had an infant been attacked by a shark.


Photo illustration by Dustin Snipes

Below, sportsman racers wait on the holding rope for their turn to head to the starting line.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th

That was it for Saturday, on to raceday!

With two of the five top fuel boats being involved with accidents on Saturday I fully expected to only see three racing on Sunday. I was very surprised when I rolled into the track and saw all five top fuelers being dropped into the water for the first round of racing.

Below, Scotty Lumbert is lowered into the water with fiberglass repairs being done to what was a gaping hole in the boat the previous day. The crew worked all night to get the boat ready for action.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/5000th

Below, Jarrett Silvey is lowered into the water for his first round race. The front of the sponsons had to be repaired with new fiberglass after hitting the bottom of the river when he submerged the previous day.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/5000th

Below, Scotty Lumbert races downtrack in the first round. While he lost the race it was still pretty impressive to flip a boat one day and fix it and lay down a 245mph run less than 24 hours later!


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2000th

Below, Jarrett Silvey, whose boat was at the bottom of the river less than 24 hours ago rumbles down the track during the first round. He would win the round but ended up losing in the semi finals.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2000th

In the below photo water flies above the engine and cockpit of the boat of top alcohol hydro driver Mike Robbins as he slows down following his first round pass.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

The below shot was something that happened following the first round pass by top alcohol hydro driver Mike Fry, right after crossing the finish line and getting off the throttle, water surrounded the engine and capsule like something you would see in a wind tunnel. Weird.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2000th

Before the semi finals of top fuel hydro I shot a tight headshot of Ron McLellan prior to climbing into the capsule of his boat.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/500th

A few minutes later I again shot McLelland as he became a 200mph fireball racing down track.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Fast forward a few hours later to the final rounds.

Cool clouds made for a great background as top alcohol hydro driver Mike Fry is loaded into the water for his race.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 250iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Below is a good view of the unique design some drag boats have as Ron McLelland is loaded into the water for his final round matchup against John Haas.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 250iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

From the exact same spot I was standing for the above shot I lowered the camera down to the ground and shot his boat through some grass on the edge of the wall.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 250iso, f6.3, 1/320th

In the final round of pro modified I shot Brutus Utter (below) through the rescue boat blocking my view as he raced down track. Im a sucker for layered shots like this.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/3200th

On to the last race of the weekend, the big boys. Top Fuel Hydro final!

As the boats launched off the starting line I kept my camera on McLelland as I used my right eye to keep sight of Haas in the far lane. The late afternoon semi backlit light made for great shadows in the rooster tail of water off the boats.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

Below, you can see a flash of fire around McLelland’s engine as it blows up.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/3200th

Without power theres no more reason to shoot the boat so I quickly aimed onto John Haas as he took the lead.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

You can see the parachute begin to pop out of the back of his boat (below) as he crosses the finish line with the quickest run in the history of the sport. 4.53 seconds. His speed of 256mph was the third fastest speed in history (fastest I have ever seen).


Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

It was a great ending to a nice relaxing weekend of drag boat racing.

Hopefully I will be shooting a race in September in San Diego so stay tuned.

Later that night in Atlanta, Jennifer and I met up with my buddy Pouya Dianat for dinner. Pouya is the team photographer for the Atlanta Braves and is a great photographer. Check out his site.

In the below photo the three of us pose for a goofy photo in front of the East Point Corner Tavern. Great place for food and drinks, although we were there on Lesbian night so it was a bit awkward!


Next up is NHRA drag racing in Sonoma, California.


Posted in Boat Racing, Georgia, Me, Racing, Sports   | 13 Comments

13 responses to “Smoke on the Water, 250mph racing on the liquid quarter mile!”

  1. Kyle says:

    Awesome shots!

  2. Ben says:

    Good stuff as always, I’ll be in Sonoma on Sunday, If I see you I’ll holler out!

  3. paul says:

    Can you come to Long Beach for the circle races SCSBC Kboats Crackerboxes SS

  4. Rob says:


    Have you ever thought about putting on a work shop? Sign me up if you ever do. I’d love to see you shoot a USAC Sprint or WoO event one of these days. Killer boat shots dude, the rooster tail captures are cool!

  5. Tom says:

    Nice and very impressive photos!
    In belgium, we had also a race with F1 boats. You can see my pics at http://tomvh.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/geelse-kanaalfeesten-formule-1-waterski/
    (The blog is in dutch)
    I love the wideangle pics…

  6. Ted says:


    Great photos, you always capture spirit of competition of the event. I agree with Rob, you should host a workshop. Use your connections with the D’backs as a shooting venue, keep the group small and manageable, real experience in sports photography plus it would be a thrill of a lifetime for the participants. If D’backs are not a option then maybe an NHRA or similar event where you can instruct and do your job. ..Just a thought..

  7. Jason Babyak says:

    Did you notice in the picture of Lumberts boat with the hole he is sponsored by a hotely out of Tempe, AZ. Somewhat odd to see that with you being in Hotlanta

  8. Jon Uhler says:

    Love your shots and thanks for the link to Pouya Dianat’s work! Man he is good….and a local Atlanta boy….

  9. Daryl "Buzz" Busby says:

    Mark as always GREAT shots. The Fuel Monkeys and Wolf worked worked their butts off to get her ready for Sunday. I guess it is that never say die attitude. Hope to see you in Marble Falls


  10. Charlie Z says:

    Great shots. Love the comments.

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  12. Jamie butler says:

    top shots would love to see them for real 1 day,
    Jamie butler

  13. KJEphoto says:

    Great stuff here. Dragboats are probably one of the most photogenic forms of motorsports. My interest in photography started from going to the IHBA races at Red Bluff with my dad. Shame to see most of the races in California get wiped out. Anyways love your blog, keep on keepin on!


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