Aylesworth described how he feared for his life as flames engulfed his 3-ton Unlimited Hydroplane Aug. 6 while traveling at more than 180 mph. Aylesworth escaped with minor burns to his right shoulder and an injured left foot. The left foot controls the vertical lift of the boat as it skims over the surface of the water.
"The engine compartment exploded and then traveled into the driver's compartment, immediately," Aylesworth said. "I was hoping I could get out of that unbearable heat."
The video footage of the blaze made headlines in the days following the incident and brought national attention to the dangerous sport of speedboat racing, including Mission Bay's Thunderboat Regatta, scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 15 through 17.
Fears that this last incident would spell disaster for the San Diego-based Freedom Racing Team, which has been trying to find a title sponsor for the Unlimited Hydroplane, proved true. According to an announcement released on Aug. 22, the extent of the damage rendered the boat unavailable for the Thunderboat Regatta.
The beleaguered Freedom Racing Team has been in dangerous situations before, such as the time Aylesworth survived a near-deadly crash in the final race of the 2005 season at Mission Bay. The team also has been looking for a title sponsor for the boat, racing director Bob Davies said.
Davies said the regatta will still go on as planned, but that he's still "looking for the right company guy" to come out help support the San Diego hydroplane tradition at Mission Bay "” a tradition started by hydroplane racing legend Bill Muncey and kept alive by enthusiasts all over the world. Davies hopes extra funds would be made available in time for the race.
He said that usually "leftover money" becomes available late in the year when sponsors have surplus funds.
"I know it's an iffy thing to hang on, but we've seen this happen a couple times in the past. We're very optimistic that it's going to happen." Davies said.
Although the Thunderboat Regatta will go on as scheduled, this latest incident means the Freedom Racing Team's hopes of having a big finish in their hometown are squashed.
"It is a blow [to us]," said Jeffrey Johnson, co-owner of the Lucky U21 Unlimited.
Johnson has lived in Ocean Beach for 10 years and has represented San Diego, along with the Freedom Racing Team, all over the U.S. and Canada. Johnson said that the damage to the hull was severe.
The Thunderboat Regatta is the premier event topping off the World Series of Powerboat Racing at Mission Bay. The fastest powerboats in the world come to Mission Bay to compete for the Bill Muncey Cup. It is the last event of the year and is hosted by Thunderboats Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting powerboat racing.
Thunderboats Unlimited hosts the regatta and contributes to several local charities, including the San Diego Youth and Community Services and the YMCA Youth and Family Services. One of this year's themes is a charitable campaign called "When We Race, Children Win." Since it began, the Freedom Racing Team has helped raise more than $100,000 for Children's Hospital and other charities. The regatta will feature fan event activities, including pit tours and children under 12 will be admitted free.