Mark Evans served notice to hydroplane fans that he's back Sunday by doing his customary victory dance atop his U-8 Llumar Window Film boat while being towed in from the Columbia River race course.
After a two-year hiatus from driving unlimited hydroplanes, Evans picked up his first victory of 2003 in the Budweiser Columbia Cup final.
It was the second consecutive victory on the Columbia for Evans, who last raced here and won in 2000 with the U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus. It was also his third victory here in his last five starts.
"All of the wins are great," he said. "I'm just happy to be here. It's just like riding a bicycle, but I've also been very careful with this boat. I'm a rookie again, you know."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
And that's fine with U-8 owner Bill Wurster, who had one of the best weekends of his life in the Lampson Pits.
After all, the long-time driver and owner celebrated his 80th birthday Saturday, he got to ride in and drive a vintage Oh Boy! Oberto hydroplane circa 1976, and he collected his first-ever victory on the Columbia River and his fifth overall as an owner.
"You're looking at the happiest 80-year-old man in the world," said Wurster, whose last victory came in 1992 at Seafair with the Tide boat.
And, he says, Mark Evans is definitely the right driver for his new boat.
"I knew that before the season began," Wurster said. "I practically had to get down on my knees and beg him to drive for me. He likes the crew and the crew likes him. This is his victory, (crew chief) Scott Raney's win, and the crew's win. I just pay the bills."
Evans had complained Saturday about the U-8's performance around the course. But he also noted it was getting faster each time out.
By the time the final rolled around late Sunday afternoon, he had a bullet on his hands.
That also helped him stay out of trouble. While other drivers jockeyed for position at the start, Evans stayed away from them and really never trailed.
Evans hammered a perfect start in the five-lap final, helping him take the lead in the backstretch of the 21/2-mile course.
The Herald learned Ellstrom Manufacturing-Miss Elam driver Nate Brown and Miss Budweiser driver Dave Villwock were fined $500 each after the race for bumping incidents before the start of the final heat.
Hydro-Prop chairman Gary Garbrecht said he wouldn't get involved with the decision, deferring to his race officials.
"Just remember, it takes two to tango," he said.
Brown admitted his mistake.
"The start was a mess," he said. "With the level of competition so high it makes it real important to get as far inside as you can. I saw an opening and went for it. Then it closed.
"I had two choices. I could lift off and perhaps land on somebody. Or I could bump into somebody. That's what I did. It was my fault."
The whole start was rough, and it just wasn't Brown and Villwock.
"How did you guys like that full contact boat racing in the final heat?" U-2 Trendwest driver Terry Troxell asked the crowd at the awards stand. They applauded.
But Mark Evans, staying away from the mess, ran the perfect race.
"The key to winning involves a few variables," he said. "First you have to make a halfway decent start. Then you've got to get through the turn. By the time the second lap rolled around, I started getting my confidence up."
The only thing left was to hold off brother Mitch Evans in the U-3 Vacationville.com piston boat and Brown, both of whom were charging hard at the end.
And that made Mark Evans nervous.
"(Crew chief) Scott (Raney) told me on the radio 'Your brother is coming up on you,'" Mark said.
But it was too late for Mitch. For the final three laps, both he and Brown battled for second place, racing deck-to-deck until finally Brown pulled away for the second-place finish.
Mitch Evans was still happy with his third-place finish.
"This thing is a rocket," said Evans, who admitted he made a mistake by trying to go outside at the start of the final.
"If you get into the first two or three lanes, you're set," Mitch said. "I got tangled up with Terry Troxell at the start. So I felt I could move to the outside and get ahead. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
For the Evans family, grabbing a first and a third on their home course, it was a race to celebrate.
"Mom told us not to hurt each other or she'd thump me," Mark said. "She also reminded me how I used to pick on Mitch when we were younger. So I felt guilty about that."
But Mitch, who already has a victory this season in Evansville, Ind., didn't mind sharing the wealth with his older brother.
"If it can't be me, it's got to be him," Mitch said.