Editor’s note: There are 49 days until the APBA HAPO Gold Cup takes place on the Columbia River. At the same time, the Tri-City Water Follies’ annual event is celebrating its 50th year of racing unlimited hydroplanes. So the Herald will take a daily look at past storylines leading up to the Gold Cup. These are in no particular order:
July 27, 2014, Columbia Cup: Drama in the pits.
Jimmy Shane had the boat and the speed, and the U-6 Oberto crew — with some help of friends along the beach — showed how well it could work under pressure to win the 49th running of the Columbia Cup.
But what most people will remember about last year’s race was that Dave Villwock, the longtime veteran and all-time wins leader in unlimited hydroplane racing, created havoc on the river and in the pits.
Villwock, who has 67 career victories, announced early in race week that he was coming out of retirement — for the third time in his career, no less — to drive the U-37 Cost Less Carpet for Billy and Jane Schumacher.
The Schumachers had hired Villwock, 61 at the time, as a consultant the year before, and the veteran had worked all offseason to get the boat ready for intended driver Scott Liddycoat.
But the Schumachers were also looking to sell the boat and wanted Villwock in the cockpit to get things up to speed fast so the sale could move along.
In Heat 2B earlier in the day, Villwock was leading in lane 2, ahead of Jeff Bernard in the U-17 Our Gang Racing in lane 1 and Jon Zimmerman in the U-9 Les Schwab Tires-Team RedDot in lane 3, as the trio headed into the east end turn of the course.
At that moment, Villwock had the required seven-boat lead when we cut to the apex of the turn.
Bernard slid out of his lane, crossed through Villwock’s skid fin wake and kept going out until he hit the roostertail of Zimmerman’s boat.
The water lifted the U-17 up into the air, sideways, and the boat landed hard on the right sponson.
The race was stopped, and Bernard was OK. But it caused enough damage for U-17 team owner Nate Brown to withdraw from the Columbia Cup.
Though Bernard and Brown said what Villwock did was legal, neither of them was happy with him in what many racers considered a violation of an unwritten racing rule.
“The 37 had a boat length that was legal, but it didn’t need to be done the way it was,” said Bernard. “He had almost a full roostertail lead. It was legal, but he went straight to the pin. When you’re racing someone, and you have them covered, you don’t need to do that to help save other teams’ equipment. We weren’t a factor at that point. It’s an unfortunate situation that didn’t need to happen. I forgot who was driving the boat. I’m kind of used to it. But that’s why no one likes him.”
H1 officials reviewed the video, and they ruled that there was room in the turn for Bernard.
Villwock fired back.
“We had a little meeting,” said Villwock. “I said ‘Do you want to make it 10 boat lengths?’ I tried to leave him room. This is the same guy a few years ago in Doha that turned into my roostertail and it rolled the boat over. Then he blamed me for that.”
Brown estimated the damage at $50,000.
“That’s all on Villwock,” he said. “But I’m not mad at him. It was legal. But his narcissistic personality won’t allow him to be wrong. It’ll never be his fault. He doesn’t give a s--- about anybody else on the race course, and you can quote me.”
We weren’t done.
Later in the day, in heat 3B, Villwock lost control of the boat on the first lap from the inside lane.
His boat hit Shane’s front left sponson hard, lifting the Oberto off the water before the defending national high points champion was able to regain control of the boat before if went onto the Kennewick shoreline.
“I went through the corner in lane 3, Dave was in lane 1,” said Shane. “Dave turned right in the middle of the corner and he went straight at me. I went 15 feet into the air. It was a pretty hard lick.”
It took a 4-foot chunk out of the boat.
“He tried to talk to me,” Shane said, “but I didn’t want him saying anything. That’s two incidents in one day.”
Villwock was automatically disqualified from the heat, and the team was docked 150 points, which put them out of the finals.
Video showed that Villwock had clipped a buoy with the back of his boat, and he said he then lost something off the boat.
“The right rear shoe came off,” Villwock said. “It came out and the boat just turned right. I thought the skid fin fell off.”
Villwock said it wasn’t intentional. And the move would seem silly for someone who put too much time into the boat in the offseason.
“Why take myself out of a race?” he said. “Something fell off.”
It was enough that some other race team members were yelling at H1 officials in the pits, complaining about Villwock.
That 4-foot chunk missing in the Oberto?
As the Oberto was being towed back to the pits, Charlie Grooms, the team manager of the Oberto, called his team together in the truck for a meeting.
“I talked about it being just a concerted, focused effort when the boat got back,” said Grooms. “We have a compartmentalized team. Everybody has a job to do. (Panicking) is not what we do.”
The Peters & May team even got in on the job, as crew chief Scott Raney could be seen running down Lampson Pits from his camp to the Oberto camp to help fix the hole. Some of Raney’s crew joined in too.
By the time the final arrived, Oberto was patched together with masking tape and various materials.
Shane got some extra time for finishing touches when Jamie Nilsen flipped the U-21 on the first lap of the final, delaying the restart 55 minutes.
And when the race was restarted, it wasn’t even close.
“We had good position,” said Shane, who had won two consecutive H1 races. “I knew that we had good position at the start of the race. We had the best position in lane 1 to get to clean water.”
Shane averaged 145.294 mph over the five-lap final, well ahead of the 139.177 mph average of runnerup Zimmerman and the U-9 Les Schwab Tires-Team RedDOT.
As for Villwock, a number of drivers were meeting after the second incident to discuss the 60-year-old veteran.
One owner said the drivers were discussing what they wanted to do at Seafair the following week if Villwock was going to drive.
But when driver Kip Brown was asked about those discussions, he replied with what many people think goes on at the race course and in the pits.
“Drama,” Brown replied. “It’s boat racing drama.”