David, Oberto in front after Day 1

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editorJuly 25, 2009 

KENNEWICK -- It was the same old story on the unlimited hydroplane circuit Friday at Lampson Pits.

The old guys outran the young guns on the first day of qualifying for the 44th annual Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.

Steve David, the 55-year-old from Florida, drove the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto to the fastest qualifying time of the day with an impressive 161.957 mph.

For good measure, he won the made-for-television, four-boat exhibition race used to entice fans to come back today.

"We did what we wanted to today," David said. "We were top qualifier. That was our goal. We also ran two different race (gears-propellor) setups."

David was one of seven drivers who qualified their boats for the event, a group that included Dave Villwock, the 53-year-old who drove the U-16 Miss Elam Plus to a speed of 160.367 mph.

Villwock did make another run in the afternoon at more than 162 mph, but a fuel flow infraction negated the speed.

Then things got worse for Villwock and his team.

"We had problems. We were using one of the chargers in the other boat," Villwock said. "We've got a lot of wiring to do tonight. It's a simple thing, but we've got to make it start. We burned up some charging wire and we brought in some baler stuff to make it run."

The charger got plugged and it was shorting some equipment.

By the time the day was over, the Elam team was in for a long night.

"We have melted muck in the cockpit," said team manager Erick Ellstrom. "We jumped it earlier and it just fried everything. The boat is powerless. We'll be working all night.

"We've gotten to the point that these boats are so computerized that when something goes wrong, you can't do anything."

Realistically, the team has until 2 p.m. today to get things together, since that's when the first heat begins.

Meanwhile, J. Michael Kelly was third-fastest in the U-7 Graham Trucking at 157.972 mph, which also included an N2 violation in an earlier run.

"We're happy with the third-fastest time considering we were kind of babying it," Kelly said.

Nate Brown stepped into the cockpit of the U-17 West Pasco Family Dental boat that he owns and qualified it at 157.667 mph -- the fourth-fastest speed of the day.

Brown needs to get requalified as a driver. So he plans to drive in the team's first heat race today, then turn the boat over to nephew Kip Brown.

"I'm Kip's backup driver, but I'm also a backup driver for a number of other teams," said Nate Brown.

There are two more qualifying sessions scheduled today -- 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. -- before Heats 1A and 1B are run starting at 2 p.m.

With the fastest qualifiers getting first lane choice, and the fact that points are up for grabs in qualifying, the boats hit the Columbia River a little more than usual Friday.

"Qualifying is real important," said Mike Hanson, crew chief for the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto. "We'll run four times on a Friday, and those qualifying points are important."

Oberto enters this weekend's race trailing national high points leader Elam by just 267 points -- 3,377 to 3,110.

And what will Oberto's goal be today?

"Go faster," said David. "We have one more combination we're going to try. I don't know if we have it but we want 2 more mph. At this point compared to last year, we're 1.5 mph faster now."

Other race qualifiers include:

Jeff Bernard and the U-5 Formulaboats.com at 155.890; Jimmy King and the U-3 Grandview on the Lake at 152.219; and Brian Perkins and the U-48 Albert Lee at 144.264.

JW Myers, driving the U-37 Hoss Mortgage for Jean Theoret, who is recovering from a flip which occurred in Madison, Ind., on July 4, had the speed at 157 mph but was negated with an N2 violation.

Ken Muscatel in the U-25 Mr. Home Loan presents Servepro, Greg Hopp in the U-100 Jerry's Tavern, and rookie Mike Webster in the U-22 Matrix Systems have either yet to complete a lap or gotten into the water.

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