David, Oberto back for bid at hydro 3-peat

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor July 20, 2010 

KENNEWICK -- It's interesting how many things you can think about in a matter of seconds when you're flying upside down in a speeding hydroplane.

This was Steve David's predicament last November when he flipped his U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto in Doha, Qatar.

It happened in Heat 4A, and what was amazing was that David landed the boat right-side up.

"That move," he jokes, "took 40 years (of racing) to perfect."

Even more incredible was that an hour later, David -- who broke his foot in the flip -- drove the Oberto to a second-place finish in the final and earned enough points to clinch his second consecutive national high points championship.

He admits it was a very emotional day.

"It's pretty amazing the range of emotions that happens in four seconds (during the flip)," said David. "At first I thought we blew the national championship. Then I thought 'How am I going to land this thing?'

"Then I landed it and I didn't want to shut it down," David continued. "I wanted to finish the heat and get some points. But of course they stopped the race."

And at that point, the championship was still in doubt.

"From an emotional standpoint, we go from if we win that heat, we win the championship, to just finish the heat," David said. "Then Jeff Bernard can win it, and he crashes (in the U-5). Then Dave Villwock can win it (in the U-16 Miss Elam Plus) in the final and he has problems."

In the end, David had just 235 more points than Villwock to take the season title. The fact that he landed the boat correctly and was able to race in the final was the key to the title.

Now, here we are, with the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup coming up Friday through Sunday on the Columbia River, and David and the Oberto team are still on top.

They're looking for a three-peat -- both as national high-point champions and as Columbia Cup champions.

With just five scheduled races this season (Tri-Cities is the third), there's not much room for mistakes. And unless something drastics happens, the champ looks like it'll be either David/Oberto (3,305 points), Villwock/U-96 Spirit of Qatar (3,107) or J. Michael Kelly and the U-7 Graham Trucking (2,800).

David won the season opener in the boat's hometown of Madison, Ind. Villwock drove the U-96 to his eighth Gold Cup victory in Detroit.

"If we leave Tri-Cities with the points lead, it just makes a repeat chance that much better," David said. "Right now we're 50-50. But we could be 80-20 when we leave."

But it won't be easy, and David knows it.

"I've not kept stats, but I think the Tri-Cities has had more blowovers than any other course," he said. "They happen in turn 1. They happen in turns 3 and 4."

It happens because this race course has more top end speed, and teams set their boats up to race as light as they can.

"In Detroit, you're going 196 mph in the straightaways and then about 127 in the turns," David said. "Here, you're in the 190s, but you take the turns in the mid-140s. There are equidistant turns, 1200-foot turns. This one is really a top-end course. You need the right props and the right gearing."

And then there's the first turn, right in front of Lampson Pits, where the wakes fail to dissipate onto shore with six boats out on the water at the same time.

"That first turn turns into an ocean," David said. "There are some outstanding 2-foot wakes."

Still, David says he loves this course.

"The race course is so awesome," he said. "I remember my first race here. It's the only course I've ever driven on with tumbleweeds floating down the river."

At 56, David knows this course. And he knows how to win.

"Obviously losing the Gold Cup was a huge disappointment," he said. "But the fact that we're still leading the points race, and we won the first race, is great."

Always a happy guy.

What will make him happier, he says, is being this weekend's top qualifier, win three preliminary heats, and then taking the winner-take-all Columbia Cup final Sunday afternoon.

He'll already be sitting in the best spot of the pits, where the defending champ is supposed to get the shady spot under Bernie Little's big tree at the east end of the pits.

"That does go (to the defending champ)," he said. "And we've paid off the appropriate people."

* Jeff Morrow: 509-582-1507; jmorrow@tricityherald.com.

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