Hydro Racing

July 27, 1998: It's no sweat for Miss Bud

Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little broke with tradition.

For years, Little began race day at the Columbia Cup hydroplane event by scooping up some water from the Columbia River and kissing it for good luck.

But on Sunday, in 108-degree heat, Little was mad and wasn't going to get friendly with any river.

"I said, 'I'm not kissing the river because it owed me.' It owed (driver) Dave (Villwock)," Little said.

And for the Budweiser team, it was payback time. Villwock swept through the three preliminary heats, then rolled to the final heat victory with an average speed of 140.530 mph.

"Man oh man! Do you know how I feel?" asked Little. "How many wins in a row is that?"

That would be four, Bernie. Your team has won all four races this season on the UHRA circuit.

What a difference a year makes. During the 1997 Columbia Cup, one of Little's best friends, Gene Susa, died in the pits when he suffered a heart attack. Then Villwock nearly lost his life when the Bud flipped in the final heat.

"We were about as far down as you can get," Little said .

Villwock agreed. "The river dealt us a blow last year," Villwock said. "Today, we got it back."

The Bud team was businesslike all weekend long. It qualified Friday and ran just twice Saturday.

On Saturday night, Villwock, Little and team opted to run the older T-3 boat rather than the newer T-5 for Sunday's races.

"The T-5 was faster, but it didn't have the handling we needed," Villwock said . "The best thing to do was switch to the T-3 and have it in racing condition."

During Sunday's races, Villwock raced and then went back to camp, where the team kept to itself.

"We would sit and talk about what we were doing," Villwock said. "Some guys who have worked here have tried the shotgun approach. 'Let's try this. Let's try that.' Some people are playing checkers here. We're trying to play chess."

Villwock got to checkmate early in the final heat. He beat the field to the first turn at the start and came out onto the backstretch in control.

The U-20 Appian Jeronimo and driver Mitch Evans, considered a contender to the Bud going into the race, got a horrible start in the final and was never in contention.

"The boat decided to shut down," Evans said . "It just skipped on me."

Only Nate Brown in the U-8 Robert Young Suites & Llumar presents Miss Tri-Cities tried to stay with Villwock early in the final. But by the second lap of the five-lap race, the verdict had all but been decided.

"That was kind of cool that I stayed with him for a while," Brown said. "But I had the foot to the floor the whole time. I finally had to let him go, and I had to back off the Bud to go inside it to keep (U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus driver) Jimmy King from getting inside."

Brown fended off King to finish second with a speed of 137.725 mph.

King placed third at 135.425 mph in the team's first race of the season. "This boat is drivable now, but it's about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10," King said . "We've got a ways to go."

Ken Muscatel, driving the U-14 Miss Jack-son's Sports Bar, finished fourth at 133.606 mph.

For Little, Sunday's win was sweet revenge on a river that has caused him pain at times. "I lost Dean Chenoweth on this river," he said. "I've lost friends here. And look what happened to Dave. I'm feeling pretty good right now."