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After 145-mph speedboat crash, he’s barely bruised

Mark Workentine was making a qualifying run at the San Diego Thunderboat Regatta when he lost control of his 8,000-horsepower boat and it splintered into pieces across the bay. “I’m very lucky,” he said, displaying his only injury: a small bruise on his arm.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Mark Workentine’s horrific, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it hydroplane boat crash has quickly become an Internet video sensation. It's hard to believe anyone could survive such a disaster, but the luck-blessed racer proudly showed off a small bruise on his upper right arm as his only battle wound after his racing craft smashed to pieces during a competition.

“I’ve had friends lose their lives doing that,” the 32-year-old Workentine told TODAY’s Amy Robach and Billy Bush Monday. “I’m very lucky.”

Former circuit champion Workentine was making a qualifying run on Mission Bay at the San Diego Thunderboat Regatta Friday when any racer’s worst nightmare turned real. In the blink of an eye, he lost control of his 8,000-horsepower boat Whiskey River as it sped along the water surface at 145 mph. The high-speed vessel splintered into pieces as it skidded wildly across the bay.

‘No thanks’ to ambulanceUnbelievably, the Fresno, Calif., native came away from the crash no worse for wear, other than the bruise he showed Robach and Bush. He was pulled from the water just 20 seconds after the crash and waved away a trip in an ambulance.

Reviewing the crash tape with Robach and Bush, Workentine admitted that he might have kept the pedal to the metal a little too long to save the pricey speedboat — even if he did save his own skin.

“I drove this one a little bit far,” Workentine said. “You’ll see the parachute come in at the end, but didn’t catch it in time.”

Workentine’s salvation came in the form of a capsule built into high-speed, professional-class hydroplane boats that encloses the driver. A five-point seat belt restraint and a roll bar are built into the capsule, as well as a contained breathing system in case the driver becomes submerged. The capsule allowed Workentine to separate himself from the boat when it became little more than a shower of shredded pieces on water.

Workentine said he didn’t even have time for his life to flash before his eyes while his boat disintegrated around him.

Zero to 200 in three seconds
“They take off so fast,” he told Robach and Bush. “They go zero to 200 miles per hour in well under three seconds. They end up at 260 miles per hour by the end of the track, so you don’t have time to think.”

Workentine added that when disaster is a heartbeat away, a pro hydroplane racer has to act on instinct. “You know you’re a goner,” he said. “You’ve just got to feel what’s happening — if you wait to see, it’s too late. You have to feel in your gut what’s happening.

“There’s no time; you’re just preparing for a crash. If you’re a racer, you know this can happen and you just hang on for the ride. Luckily, I walked away this time.”

Not so lucky was Jay Hartunian, who owned the Whiskey River boat that Workentine competed in. Today Hartunian has little more than scrap metal to show for his investment. Said Workentine sheepishly: “He’s a little grumpy with me today.”

A veteran of both water and land racing, Workentine had retired from hydroplane boat racing, but then resurfaced on the circuit this year in hopes of claiming another championship.

That dream lay in tatters last Friday, but Workentine vows he hasn’t been scared away from competing in one of the lightning-fast boats again.

“I can’t wait to get back in one,” he said. “I’d get back in tomorrow if we built another boat.”