Aug. 2, 1999: Bud's smooth finish caps Columbia Cup

July 24, 2008 

It's going to be pretty hard for Dave Villwock to find a more perfect weekend of boat racing.

The Miss Budweiser driver set a Columbia Cup course qualifying record of 170.471 mph on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, he easily outdistanced his foes in three preliminary heats before doing the same in the winner-take-all final for his fourth victory of the unlimited hydroplane season.

The victory was Villwock's 25th of his career, tying him with one of his idols - Dean Chenoweth.

"I wanted to match his record in the Tri-Cities for obvious reasons," Villwock said. Chenoweth died during a qualifying run on the Columbia River on July 31, 1982. "I echo Chip Hanauer's sentiments when he says, 'I would be happy winning one race.' "

For Hanauer, the day didn't go so well.

The driver of the Miss PICO won his first two heat races of the day. But he did it without racing against the rival Budweiser team.

Finally, the fans on the shore got a chance to see the two boats do battle in Heat 3A. It didn't last long.

During the first lap, in the west turn, Hanauer hugged the inside lane while Villwock had lane 2.

Hanauer's right sponson hit Villwock's roostertail, and the force lifted the boat into a somersault 60 feet in the air.

The boat landed right-side up, but Hanauer was done for the day. He was banged up, but he should be all right for next weekend's Texaco Cup at Seafair.

He was treated at Kennewick General Hospital and released Sunday evening. He declined to comment as he left the hospital.

"I had told everybody that I hoped they could make it to the West Coast swing," Villwock said. "With the courses so fast out here, and the way we're driving so fast, I thought Chip or I - one of us - would end up on our head. I hope that we're done with it."

Villwock and Budweiser owner Bernie Little were two of the first people to reach Hanauer when the rescue boat brought the PICOdriver in from the river.

"Our hearts go out to Chip," Little said. "He's a member of our family."

Bud and Villwock easily won the restart of 3A.

The PICOteam, however, was far from done.

By winning its first two heats and compiling 800 points, the Miss PICOhad qualified for the final.

The boat was repaired with the help from other crews in time for the final, and backup driver Mike Weber guided the boat to a second-place finish - one spot better than his brother.

"By God, I've never seen so many people work so fast in my life," said Little.

"I'm on the podium and coming off an accident, that's great," Mike Weber said. "We went out to win, but I didn't quite nail the start. After that, I just tried to stay out of trouble because you can't beat the Budweiser from the outside."

That also was what Mark Weber, driver of the third-place U-10 York International presents Miss 25 NBC, was thinking.

"I knew I couldn't beat the Bud," Mark Weber said. "He had six to seven boat lengths on me, and if I pushed it, he would have dug a hole for me in lane 2."

Mark Weber settled for chasing his brother Mike around the course.

"That was the first time we've gone against each other in the unlimiteds," Mark Weber said. "I'm proud of my brother."

Some teams dropped out and were never a factor during the day.

Appian Jeronimo and the U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus, for instance, failed to even make the final heat.

Opponents said all weekend that to stop Villwock, they would have to beat him on the start or keep him in traffic.

Instead, Villwock was perfect on all of his starts. Each time out, he beat his opponents to the turn and never was threatened.

"We were hearing up and down the beach what the different teams were planning to do to beat us," Little said. "And that's OK. Come and get us."

Little, who for years would begin race day by scooping up some water from the Columbia River and kissing it, skipped that practice for the second straight year.

And for the second straight year, Budweiser has won the Columbia Cup.

For Little, who lost Chenoweth to the river 17 years ago, and nearly lost Villwock in a blowover two years ago, his love affair with the Columbia is gone.

"This river," Little said, "owed me."

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