For the first time this year, the unlimited hydroplane circuit won't be suffering a hangover from too much Budweiser.
No one was celebrating more than Mark Evans of Lake Chelan and the Seattle-based crew of the Miss E-Lam Plus after they captured the 2000 Columbia Cup on Sunday.
"It's been a couple of years and it feels awesome," Evans said after steering the U-16 to its first-ever title and the 10th of his career. "I just thank God we won it."
The day ended early and abruptly for the Miss Budweiser when Dave Villwock smashed his sponson during a collision in Heat 2A. By 12:04 p.m., the Bud withdrew and began disassembling its camp in Kennewick's Neil F. Lampson Pits.
The departure opened the door for the rest of the fleet, which had been almost helpless as the Bud won all four previous races this season and 10 in a row overall.
"We would have liked to have beaten the Bud head-to-head," Evans said.
As it was, Evans cruised to a half-mile victory over George Stratton in the U-5 Lowrey's Beef Jerky presents Appian Jeronimo, which edged the other jerky boat -Êthe U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto and Nate Brown - for third place.
"Sometimes, this Bud's for you. This time, the Bud's for us," said Erick Ellstrom, team manager for the Miss E-Lam.
But to the folks on the beach, it appeared as if Greg Hopp and the U-100 Znetix won by a wide margin. Instead, a rule violation by Hopp and Mark Weber in the U-10 York presents Jack-Son's/97 Rock cleared the way for Evans.
Both Hopp and Weber were penalized one lap for slowing down too much at the score-up buoy, a point on the course directly across from the start-finish line that no one can be beyond until there are 60 seconds or less left before the start.
Rather than go over the line, the two boats chugged along.
Mike Noonan, the circuit's chief referee, said drivers are not allowed to be off-plane for more than five seconds.
"It's called a parking start," Noonan said. "It was more than 10 seconds. The guys in the helicopter were counting off, 'One-thousand one, one-thousand two.' They got to 10 and both were still off-plane.
"It's more for safety than anything else," Noonan added, "because when you hit the accelerator, those boats want to turn hard left. If anybody's there, they'll hit them."
Brown positioned the Oh Boy! Oberto well behind the backlog of boats at the score-up buoy that was jockeying for Lane 1.
"I knew they were in front of the buoy way too early, and I'm really glad somebody had the guts to call that," Brown said. "Those guys have been doing that all year."
Back on the dock, Hopp talked with his crew for several minutes, took a few more minutes to change out of his racing suit, and then met the media. He answered questions with a smile.
"It's a judgment call. I didn't think I was off-plane for more than five seconds," Hopp said. "I feel like we won the race. I didn't feel like we did anything wrong."
That explains why Hopp ran hard from start to finish.
"A lap, maybe two laps into it, they radioed (the penalty) in to me," Hopp said. "I just figured we can protest it, and maybe after they review the tape, they'll change their minds. We'll see."
Race officials later took away all of Hopp's points in the final heat because of a flagrant N2 violation - over-revving the engine.
Weber didn't agree with his penalty either, but he didn't plan to protest.
"It's a waste of time, money and oxygen," Weber said. "I got boxed in by team drivers. I couldn't go forward because (Hopp) was in front of me, and I couldn't go right because his teammate (Stratton) was there, and I couldn't go left because there was the DMZ."
Evans also saw the backup and said, "I knew it was unsafe. I couldn't figure out why they were there so early."
News about the penalties began to creep into Evans' driving by the fourth lap of the five-lap final heat.
"I couldn't let (Hopp) get away, but I didn't want to do anything goofy," Evans said. "I didn't want to get beat up (by water) or blow over."
Ironically, the last time Evans won in the Tri-Cities was in 1997, which was when Villwock suffered debilitating injuries in a flip of the Bud. Villwock rebounded to win the next two Columbia Cups.
Villwock's bid for a third straight title was scuttled in part because of the fuel restrictions placed on him for winning the season's first four races. The reduction of fuel from 4.3 gallons per minute to 3.9 gpm for the Columbia Cup led to the Bud getting squeezed in the first turn of Heat 2A.
The subsequent collision with Mike Hanson's U-9 Fiesta Bowl & Casino sent both boats out of the race. Both boats, and the Freddie's Club (gearbox), plan to make their repairs in time for the Seafair race.
And Evans will be operating with 4.2 gpm in Seattle.
"Now, I want to complain about that fuel restriction," Evans joked. "We'll deal with it. It was a great performance by everybody."