KENNEWICK -- Dave Villwock never originally intended to drive an unlimited hydroplane.
As a teenager, the guys he saw who drove unlimiteds never seemed happy. They were always worrying about money.
Or the sport didn't look competitive enough.
"I always looked at the Budweiser, the Miller American, the Atlas," Villwock said Friday in Lampson Pits. "It always seemed that there were two boats capable of doing anything, and the rest of the field was just filler."
Or drivers got killed competing.
"I thought 'This isn't such a good idea,' " Villwock said.
But here Villwock is today at the age of 57, unlimited racing's all-time career leader in victories with 63 and ready to keep rolling.
His victory at the Detroit Gold Cup on July 10 helped him get past the 62 wins of Bill Muncey -- one of his idols.
"Dave Villwock to me is a very, very classy individual," said Sam Cole, H1 Unlimited chairman. "There is no fiercer competitor. He has stepped up and taken the role of ambassador of this sport."
Villwock looks like he should have been a basketball player, standing 6-foot-4. But he graduated from South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard never playing for the Wolves.
"I played basketball in intramurals and city league," he said. "My dad wasn't fond of high school sports because they took away from the farm work."
So it was his uncle, Al Villwock, who helped him fall in love with two things -- racing boats and flying model airplanes.
Al Villwock used to race against George Henley -- the former Pay N Pak driver -- and Muncey.
"I was one of those kids who started in the shop with a broom, sweeping," Villwock said. "My first race was at 15 in Harrison Hot Springs (British Columbia)."
The model airplanes? Villwock still competes with those and finished fourth at nationals one year.
In fact, Villwock probably would have had a happy life racing his limited boats, flying model airplanes and working in the sheet metal industry.
But then Bill Bennett stepped into his life.
The CEO of the Circus Circus Enterprises in Las Vegas asked Villwock to take a look at his operation in 1988, and by the time the two were done, Bennett asked him to run his operation.
"He told me I could write my own ticket," Villwock said.
Bennett had Chip Hanauer as his driver. But when contract talks became contentious between the two, Bennett approached Villwock about driving.
"I said 'Mr. Bennett, you hired me to help you win a world championship. If you want to win, you have got to hire that guy (Hanauer) to drive,'" said Villwock.
Titles followed in 1989 and 1990.
Villwock said he learned a lot by watching Hanauer drive, and in Hanauer had learned from Muncey.
"Dave wanted to drive, that was obvious," said Hanauer, who has 61 career victories. "I knew he was a very good boat racer. But I don't think I overtly taught him anything."
But Villwock watched and learned.
His first chance to drive finally came in 1992 in the Coors Dry, and in his very first race, in San Diego, he won.
His driving career began to take off.
He earned his first national title in 1996, driving for Fred Leland's Pico American Dream.
Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little couldn't beat him. So he hired him. And for seven straight years -- 1998-2004 -- Villwock drove the Bud to titles.
He won another title with the Ellstrom family's Miss Elam Plus in 2007.
So he's been with some good teams.
"He's a lucky S.O.B., huh?" asks Erick Ellstrom, owner of the U-96 Spirit of Qatar. "No. I believe winners breed winning. Dave, for us, was the last piece of the puzzle we were looking for."
Now, is Villwock the greatest driver ever?
It's arguable, some say.
"Dave's only disadvantage is when you put pressure on him," said Steve David, who has won the last three national high points title driving the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto. "His boat has been so good, he hasn't had to face that much pressure. We have to bring the competition to him.
"Every one of us drivers has a weakness," David continued. "When it gets tight out there, that's when we have to focus and capitalize on the situation. If he gets out front, it'll be all over."
Hanauer looks back on Muncey as the consummate driver.
"I don't think Dave is close to Bill Muncey as a pure driver," Hanauer says. "The difference for Bill and myself, we could translate to the crew what to do when we came back to the docks."
But because Villwock was a crew chief and a propeller man, he could tell crew members what exactly was needed for the boat.
He knows that's been a key to his success.
"I think it's helped me," he said. "Look at Madison. I was still able to strap on the tool belt and help get the boat ready for Detroit."
Hanauer also says Villwock's studious ways are keys to his success.
"He'll figure anything out," Hanauer said. "If Dave wanted to be a musician or a juggler, he could have been great. He's a student of everything he does."
He hasn't always been the most popular. People seem to either like him or they do not.
Once, after a victory in Madison, Villwock got a few boos.
"I think it's something I shared with Dale Earnhart," Villwock said of another one of his idols. "He told me 'Hell, if they aren't booing you, you haven't done nothing yet.' "
And a survey among drivers and teams a few years ago in Lampson Pits found that even though some people didn't like him, they certainly wouldn't mind that Villwock be their driver, crew chief or prop man.
Whatever. He just wants to be remembered as one of the hardest racing guys around.
"I think (getting the record) is kinda cool," Villwock said. "Sitting on 59 was bugging me. Sixty wins is what I wanted. After that, we were good. Now we're just competing race to race."
And where does he see himself in the sport down the road?
"It's hard telling," he said. "The sport seems to be in good health. Physically, as long as I can, I'll drive. It also depends on what Erick does.
"So far, so good. We'll see."
Either way, there is no denying Dave Villwock is one of the greatest drivers this sport has ever seen.