Editor’s note: There are 45 days until the APBA HAPO Gold Cup Heat 1A race 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 29, 2007: Villwock at his best.
Before 2007, no driver had ever won four consecutive Columbia Cups.
But Dave Villwock pulled it off in 2007, racing the U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus to victory in dominating fashion.
It was the third consecutive victory for the Ellstrom team on the Columbia. It was Villwock’s fourth consecutive win (he won in 2004 driving the Miss Budweiser).
Villwock and the Ellstrom team had won the first four races of the 2007 American Boat Racing Association season.
There was talk of a never-done-before season sweep, but it would be the team’s last win of the season. The Ellstrom team would finish fourth in Seattle and sixth in San Diego, but it had done enough damage in the first four races that they coasted to the national high points title.
And there is an argument this might have been Villwock’s best season ever.
“I think he’s done better on our team than any of the other teams he’s driven for,” said Erick Ellstrom, team manager of the U-16 team, at the time.
“I don’t think he’s driven better,” said U-6 sponsor Larry Oberto.
“I don’t think I’m going to get any better,” he told the Herald after the race. “I feel like I can get a hit every time I swing the bat. A thousand people watching doesn’t bother me. I feel like I can make the winning shot.”
In other words, even Villwock admitted he was in a zone. Every move he was making was correct.
“Nothing is coming as a surprise,” Villwock said. “I watch things take place and anticipate what happens next, and it does.”
He anticipated everybody’s strategy before the final.
The Elam team had a meeting before the final to go over its opponents.
“It’s all in the setup,” he said. “We put the setup on the boat for outside lanes 1 through 3. We were trying to race with some intelligence. It was time to check the egos at the door. We knew Lanes 1 through 3 would be packed in there. We wanted to watch the fight develop. We set up for speed and would try to get around them.”
Villwock and Ellstrom called it correctly.
Villwock took control in the second lap, powerfully pulling away from Steve David in the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto — who could not cut into the gap.
David had mentioned the day before the race that Villwock had more top end speed — or straightaway speed — than he did. And it was easy to tell.
“But it wasn’t just top end speed,” said David, who finished second. “They had a great propellor-gears ratio setup.”
Ellstrom was ecstatic. The team had torn apart gearboxes on Saturday in the camp, working well into the night.
But really no one else knew that. So it looked strange how the U-16 camp had a lull to it most of Sunday, with Ellstrom himself sitting in a chair in front of the team truck selling souvenirs to fans.
“We knew how we wanted to set up the boat to run in Lane 3 or 4,” Ellstrom said. “Just like we had qualified. If the boats let us go there, we’d be all right. As long as Dave nailed the start we’d be pretty happy.”