Villwock still schooling drivers at Water Follies

July 26, 2013 

Crews get their hydroplanes ready for racing Friday on the Columbia River.

PAUL T. ERICKSON

Dave Villwock and J. Michael Kelly huddled together in Lampson Pits on Friday.

Villwock would draw something up on the top of an oil drum, and Kelly would listen and then discuss it with him.

Meet the new team: The former driving great and the young veteran driver who came just a few feet from earning his first victory last season at the Columbia Cup.

For Villwock, it’s a chance for him to help a team get untracked.

Things didn’t end so well in the 2012 H1 Unlimited season for Dave Villwock, the winningest unlimited hydroplane driver of all time with 67 victories.

In January in Doha, Qatar, Villwock had two disqualifications and one failure to start in his U-96 Spirit of Qatar boat. Then, in his last heat, Villwock caught a roller that flew the boat, causing it to hit the water hard enough that it broke the motor mounts and starting a fire.

The fire damage was enough that team manager Erick Ellstrom made the decision to shut things down for the 2013 season until he could get the boat fixed.

Villwock announced his retirement as a driver a few months later.

But boat racing gets in your blood and it’s hard to get out.

Billy and Jane Schumacher knew that. So they hired Villwock as a consultant for their 37 Beacon Plumbing team.

“It started when Dave went over to Moses Lake earlier this year and asked J. Michael if he planned on staying with the team,” said Jane Schumacher. “J. Michael said yes, and he told us what Dave asked. We put in a call to Dave immediately and asked if he’d like to work with us.”

Villwock agreed.

“What else am I gonna do?” said Villwock. “We’re just having fun.”

Schumacher agrees.

“It’s been really good,” she said. “He gets along with everyone and interfaces with the team quite well. (Villwock’s wife) Holly and I have become best friends.”

And Kelly has taken advantage of the arrangement.

“I don’t think you could ask for a better set-up guy,” said Kelly. “To have him on my team coaching is great. You kind of have to take any advice he gives, he’s done so much. I have picked up a lot of stuff from him.”

But before Villwock became a great driver, he was one of the better crew chiefs around.

“People forget he’s been a great crew chief with the Circus Circus and Pico,” said Jane Schumacher.

And he was team manager while driving for those great Budweiser teams.

So he’s been working with the 37 crew on getting more speed out of the boat.

“We’ve gained speed,” said Villwock. “It’s just a bunch of little set-up things.”

Part of it is equipment, some of it old.

“Right now we’re using an old propellor that I think was used to hold a door open,” Villwock joked. “But I think Bill Cahill (the owner of Beacon Plumbing) wants to commit more money.”

Jane Schumacher confirmed that.

“We’re on board for three more years with Beacon,” she said.

Which gives the team more time to jell.

“Dave doesn’t want to completely change me,” Kelly said. “I can still be myself. But I’m basically a big sponge. He’s taught me a lot of stuff.”

It’s been a process.

“Before, J. Michael had an uncontrollable boat ride,” said Villwock. “We’re trying. It’s faster. J. Michael is trying to listen, and doing a good job. We’re chewing away at a lot of things.”

And everyone on the Beacon Plumbing team seems happy.

“We like him,” said Jane Schumacher. “He doesn’t have the pressure of driving anymore. I think’s he’s enjoyed this.”

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