HYDROS: Rough day for Qatar team

July 29, 2012 

Sunday wasn’t the best day for the U-1 Spirit of Qatar 96 team.

The team that had won the first two races in the Air National Guard H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series had to settle for a third-place finish in the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup final.

Earlier in the day, the team failed to finish one heat and placed third in another.

“It wasn’t our best day,” said Erick Ellstrom, the team’s owner and crew chief. “You never know how to describe these days.”

In Heat 2A, driver Dave Villwock looked to be in control on the final lap, with Jimmy Shane in the U-5 Graham Trucking close behind.

Suddenly, the Qatar went dead in the water on the final turn , and Shane went on for the win.

“We blew up a gearbox and blew up a motor,” said Villwock.

In Heat 3B, Villwock got washed down near the score-up bouy and finished third.

The same thing happened in the final.

“We just needed to get to the start,” said Villwock. “But we took a gulp (of water) and with the system we have it killed the fire and I knew we were in trouble.”

Ellstrom said things like that happen.

“A million things have to go right for you to win a race,” said Ellstrom. “But one thing has to go wrong to ruin your day.”

Villwock agreed.

“It’s just one of those things where things weren’t quite going our way,” he said.

The one good thing is that Qatar heads to Seattle still in the national high points lead.

The team has 4,600 points, while Steve David and the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto is second with 4,410.

w Pastor Jim Riley is not the same Jim Riley who used to write for the Tri-City Herald.

But he has been a fixture at the Tri-City boat races for many years, serving as a traveling pastor on the unlimited circuit since 1998.

Last month in Detroit, three boats flipped during the APBA Gold Cup. Drivers JW Myers, Mike Webster and Scott Liddycoat escaped serious injury, but emotions ran high with their loved ones.

Riley was there to help with trauma support.

“When I look at a wife or girlfriend, and can say, ‘He’s OK,’ they begin to believe me, and it takes the tensions in the pits down to something manageable,” Riley said.

Though Riley preaches in a small Presbyterian church in Dallas, he performs nondenominational services at the boat races. He also believes in the “ministry of hanging around.”

“It’s about family building,” Riley said. “This group of people is, in a funny way, a dysfunctional family. They’re so competitive with each other, but they care about each other.”

w The U-100 Leland Unlimited’s wing caught fire at the start of Heat 3B, but after the flames were extinguished, driver Greg Hopp took off without any other issues.

“I couldn’t see the whole boat,” Hopp said after winning the Grand Prix West final. “If the whole boat was on fire, I was in deep doo-doo.”

The cause of the fire was a leaky fuel line.

“We swapped the engines and cured that problem,” crew member Jerry Hale said.

But another problem struck the U-100 at the start of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup. Hale called the newest ailment “a racing mystery.”

Hopp said that Sunday was Fred Leland’s birthday. Hopp would have loved to have won the race for Leland, who passed away in May.

“But I guess I did make the final,” Hopp said.

w The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent will hold its 2012 Summer Gala fundraiser Thursday at the Golf Club at Newcastle. Doors open at 5 p.m., and dinner will be served at 7.

There also will be an auction, and attendees can bid on a ride in the Pay ’N Pak, which won in the Tri-Cities in 1974 and 1975.

Other items to be auctioned off include a guitar signed by the Rolling Stones and an autographed Ken Griffey Jr. jersey.

Tickets are $100, and the amount is tax-deductible. Those who wish to attend can call the museum at 206-764-9453 to RSVP. Payment will be accepted at the door.

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