The skid fin is a long, stationary metal blade mounted behind the left sponson about the middle of the boat. The skid fin helps the boat through turns and keep the hull lined up in the straight-aways. When it breaks or fails, it's very, very bad because the boat loses it ability to quickly turn or maintain a path.
That's the situation U-37 driver JW Myers found himself in. When the skid fin on the boat gave way, Myers found himself going through the turn and in the worst possible position on the Detroit River. Headed directly for the pit area, full of docks, boats, and people. And he was headed there in a boat weighing more than three tons and going more than 150 miles an hour.
In seconds, Myers made a decision. He needed to muscle the boat away from the docks and the crowds. But he did it at great personal risk. To the right of the pits is the famed Roostertail wall, a roughly 10 foot concrete wall along the edge of the course. As people scrambled atop the wall, Myers' boat hit the wall hard, sending parts flying off the boat and into the air.
Myers managed to get out of the boat quickly, and laid down on the deck waiting for rescue crews to get to him. Nobody on shore was hurt, but Myers was. He was taken to St. John Hospital in Detroit, where they found multiple fractures in his left ankle.
The Roostertail turn where the skid fin failed is the tightest turn in all of Unlimited Hydroplane racing. It's tough to manage as it is, let alone when equipment fails. "If you miss, there is a stone wall there on the exit of the turn and it's going to hurt," said U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David before the race started.
"JW had to be going 175, 180 miles per hour before that turn," U-13 Miss DYC driver Cal Phipps told the Detroit News. "He had to hit that seawall at 100 to 120 miles-per-hour."
U-96 Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock was driving in the same heat, but had moved well past that point on the course when it happened. Still, an accident like that stays in your mind. "I was worried a little after what happened to J-Dub earlier," said Villwock after racing again.
"I'm glad to hear J-Dub's OK," said U-100 Jarvis Restoration driver Greg Hopp. "You think about it when you're on the course, but you have to just put it aside."
"You just have to toss it out of your mind and continue to remain calm," David told the Detroit News. "It does say a lot about the boats though how he got out and escaped injury."
Some witnesses on the shore called Myers a hero for his actions. You won't get an argument from the race teams or the other drivers.