July 30, 2007: King of the Columbia

July 24, 2008 

Dave Villwock, looking to sweep the entire 2007 American Boat Racing Association season, won his fourth consecutive race Sunday, this one the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities.

And it wasn't even close. Driving the U-16 Miss Elam Plus, Villwock dominated the field for his fourth straight victory on the Columbia River.

With two races remaining in the season, talk of a season sweep - something that has never happened in unlimited hydroplane racing - is getting louder.

And this could be Villwock's best season ever.

"I think he's done better on our team than any of the other teams he's driven for," said Erick Ellstrom, team manager of the U-16 team.

"I don't think he's driven better," said U-6 sponsor Larry Oberto.

And what does Villwock think?

"I don't think I'm going to get any better," he said. "I feel like I can get a hit every time I swing the bat. A thousand people watching doesn't bother me. I feel like I can make the winning shot."

In other words, even Villwock admits he's in a zone. Every move he makes is correct.

"Nothing is coming as a surprise," Villwock said. "I watch things take place and anticipate what happens next, and it does."

He anticipated everybody's strategy before Sunday's final.

The Elam team had a meeting before the final to go over its opponents.

"It's all in the setup," Villwock said. "We put the setup on the boat for outside lanes 1 through 3. We were trying to race with some intelligence. It was time to check the egos at the door."

Villwock said they thought that Jeff Bernard in the U-5 Formulaboats.com II and Jean Theoret in the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing would run over each other to get Lane 1.

"We knew Lanes 1 through 3 would be packed in there," Villwock said. "We wanted to watch the fight develop. We set up for speed and would try to get around them."

Villwock and Ellstrom called it correctly.

The teams had set up early for the final, with Theoret settled into Lane 1, Steve David in the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto locking up Lane 2, and Villwock holding Lane 3 as they milled into the east end turn with 2 minutes to go before the start.

But Bernard had other plans. He cut across the infield and came out on the Franklin County side backstretch in Lane 1.

That pushed the other three drivers out a lane.

By the time the race started, Theoret looked to have the lead going in and out of the east end turn.

But Villwock was flying hard from the outside, and so was David. By the end of the first lap, David had taken the lead, with Villwock in second and Theoret in third.

Theoret, though, was penalized an extra lap when race officials determined he encroached on Bernard by not having a 10-boat lead before getting into his lane.

Theoret blamed David for forcing him inside, and the team appealed.

"That penalty should have gone to Steve David, and we have the video to prove it," Theoret said. "Coming into the corner, he squeezed me. That should have been the best race of the day with three of us up there.

"I'm very much disappointed because we're not allowed to race anymore."

Nobody from the U-37 team appeared at the awards ceremony.

Meanwhile, Villwock took control in the second lap, powerfully pulling away from David - who could not cut into the gap.

"Before I knew I was next to him, ultimately he's going to pass me," David said. "It might take a few laps. We can lead for half a race before he catches us. That's what we did in Detroit, too."

David had mentioned the day before the race that Villwock had more top end speed - or straightaway speed - than he did. And it was easy to tell.

"But it wasn't just top end speed," said David, who finished second. "They had a great propellor-gears ratio setup. We need more gears and props. Next year, we'll be fully stocked."

Villwock agreed with David.

"We put in a gear ratio that ran fast," he said. "Then it was up to me to fly the boat high enough to make it work."

Ellstrom was ecstatic. The team had torn apart gearboxes on Saturday in the camp, working well into the night.

But really no one else knew that. So it looked strange how the U-16 camp had a lull to it most of Sunday, with Ellstrom himself sitting in a chair in front of the team truck selling souvenirs to fans.

"We knew how we wanted to set up the boat to run in Lane 3 or 4," Ellstrom said. "Just like we had qualified. If the boats let us go there, we'd be all right. As long as Dave nailed the start we'd be pretty happy."

Villwock did.

"Last year we weren't as prepared and we kind of sat on our laurels," Ellstrom said. "If the 37 had stayed in it, it could have been tougher for Dave to get around them. But (Theoret) eased up once he got the penalty. Undoubtedly we love this course. Everything we bring seems to work good here."

David Bryant finished third in the U-10 Miss Hoss Mortgage Investors.

"I'm happy," he said. "My goal was to make and finish the final. And bring the boat back in one piece."

No one in the U-16 camp wants to talk season sweep just yet.

Asked if he had ever won four races in a row before, Villwock said, "Yes, in 1997. I won the first four races for the Bud team, then came into the Tri-Cities and lost two fingers.

"I still think it's a longshot," he continued. "We won four races for Bud then came here and flipped. Anything like that can happen."

The way he's driving, though, the Elam team might go out and buy some brooms.

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