Hydro Racing

Aug. 1, 2005: Another Villwock victory

A week ago, Dave Villwock had planned to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon flying his model airplanes in the Seattle area and getting a trailer for his flat bottom boat for a trip to Virginia.

How things change.

Instead, Villwock spent his Sunday in the Tri-Cities, driving the U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus to victory in the 40th Budweiser Columbia Cup.

The marriage of Villwock and the Ellstrom team occurred last Monday, when Erick Ellstrom fired driver J.W. Myers a week after he flipped the boat in Detroit.

Ellstrom then called Villwock, and the defending national champion driver was handed the keys to the U-16.

And for a guy who hadn't driven an unlimited hydroplane since last September - in the Miss Budweiser - Villwock looked like he hadn't missed a beat.

"Probably the biggest thing I learned recently was that while I hadn't driven a flat-bottom boat for 20 years, I went out and missed my best speed by 1 mph," Villwock said. "I thought 'Wow, I'm amazed at how quick it comes back.'"

Same as driving an unlimited hydroplane.

"Dave has driven the boat as well as it has ever been driven," said team manager Erick Ellstrom.

How well? He won his first two heats this weekend, finished third in a third heat when he knew he was already in the final, and then stormed back to win the final heat.

But Villwock had to work for it.

"That was the hardest I've ever raced," he said. "It was fun just to race that hard."

Drivers kept trying to set up for the inside lane for the final, and Villwock let the others battle for it. He kept to his own schedule, started on the outside to avoid the rush to the first turn and the rough water it brings, and he made sure he was close to the start-finish line when the clock ran down.

"Everybody was early," said Villwock. "The U-8 was way early."

In fact, driver rookie driver Jean Theoret just barely missed the start in the U-8 Llumar Window Film.

"He crossed it by two boat lengths," said Steve David, driver of the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto.

Yet it took a couple laps before American Boat Racing Association officials announced the one-lap penalty to the teams.

That's why Villwock took nothing for granted.

"I didn't know for sure," Villwock said. "I've been driving for so long that I know there have been so many times before where they might overturn something like that. So I keep going and going."

So it looked to the fans on the shoreline that Theoret had a 10-boat length lead coming into the first turn.

Villwock came out of that turn in third place, and he slowly started working on reeling David in. He passed David on the second lap - which meant he could concentrate on Theoret next.

It took two more laps to make up that distance, but Villwock did so.

His fifth and final lap of the final was his fastest at 149.063 mph.

And by that time, Theoret had been told of his one-lap penalty.

It was a tough ending to a long weekend for the French Canadian driver. A disqualification and a broken prop in his first two heats netted Theoret exactly zero points.

A victory in 3B gave the U-8 400 points - but it wasn't enough to get the team into the final. That is, not until J. Michael Kelly and the U-2 Graham Trucking lost their 3B heat points for a fuel violation.

That put Theoret into the final. But the bad start in the final ended his Cinderella story.

"We felt very blessed (about getting into the final)," Theoret said. "By the grace of God we were out there. It's a shame I jumped the gun."

David and the Oberto finished second.

"We had a good run," said David, who took over the top driver points lead after Sunday's racing. "I might have thought I had a shot to win on the third lap until I ran through some roostertails. Our boat is set up for rough water and Dave had a lighter boat. He just got us at the end of the chutes."

Jimmy King in the U-3 Cooper Motorsports finished third - which wasn't bad after the boat was badly damaged Friday from a broken propeller, prop shaft and gearbox.

The team worked through the weekend, though, to get the boat back in the race.

"We went from major destruction to third place," said U-3 owner Ed Cooper Jr.

But the day definitely belonged to Villwock and the Ellstrom team, which solidified its national high points lead.

And the honeymoon of this marriage between the two parties is just beginning.

"This is a special group of people," Villwock said. "This whole weekend was fun. We just camped out here in the park, the whole team. We sat around a fire. We got to eat steaks Friday night, and prime rib Saturday night."

And what were they going to have Sunday night?

"Beer," said Erick Ellstrom, who then thought about Villwock's old job of driving the Miss Budweiser. "Miller beer."