LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. – It took 4 seconds. Big Thunder hit a wake, a gust of wind shot the bow to the heavens and Bob Morgan and Jeff “JT” Tillman were gone.
News of the tragedy rippled Wednesday from the Florida Keys through the Lake area minutes after the 46-foot Skater, also known as Bad Moon Risin’, flipped and crashed hard onto its canopy during the Super Boat International Championships in the Key West Harbor. Tillman was driving with Morgan at the throttles of 4,400 horsepower.
They were pulled from the wreckage by emergency responders and rushed to Lower Keys Medical Center, where both men were pronounced dead.
The power boating and business community has been left reeling, pouring sympathy onto the families of two men who had much left to accomplish at Lake of the Ozarks.
Together, the men began the resurrection Big Thunder Motorsports this year, cleaning up the property Morgan sold in 2006, then repurchased this year before landing the Donzi boat line.
Tillman has been a successful developer at the Lake since his move here in 1987. Before venturing in boat racing, he raced Indy and Grand Am circuits for the Budweiser and Sherwin Williams teams.
Morgan etched the Big Thunder name in boat racing history 20 years ago as an icon of the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, winning Top Gun honors in 1991 and 1995. He won the 2001 and 2008 Key West World Championships and the 1998 World Championship in Argentina. Bad Moon Risin’s best run at the Shootout was 171 mph in 2009.
Tillman and Morgan were running in third place in the Unlimited Class of the Super Boat World Championships when the accident took their lives.