Hydro Racing

July 29, 2002: E-Lam makes a statement, wins for 4th time in last 6 races

All Sunday long, Nate Brown took on serious challenges from various drivers during the Budweiser Columbia Cup.

Only once - during Heat 1A, when Mike Hanson and the U-9 Jack-son's Sports Bar outdueled him - did the U-16 Miss E-Lam Plus driver lose.

But the one that mattered most - the Columbia Cup final - was Brown's for sure.

He took on Dave Villwock and the U-1 Miss Budweiser for two laps before Villwock got sideways in the east end turn, hooked the boat and cleared out two buoys for a one-lap penalty.

Brown made sure he didn't do anything foolish for the last two laps to pick up his fourth victory in his last six races.

This one was especially satisfying to Brown for a few reasons.

First, he redeemed himself for last year's Columbia Cup, when he had been one of the best drivers all day only to mis-time the start of the final badly.

Second, he answered the call on a number of challenges all day.

"It seems to me I was hooking it up with someone all day long, and that's great," Brown said.

A couple of those challenges came from Villwock, and both times Hydro-Prop officials penalized the Bud driver.

In Heat 3A, Villwock was penalized a lap for encroaching on Brown's lane.

Then came the final heat miscue, one that Villwock wasn't ready to accept as his fault.

The Bud driver felt Brown had pushed him too far inside at the east turn, forcing him to pop the boat sideways before landing upright and taking out the bouys.

Villwock immediately filed a protest after the race.

He also wouldn't speak to the media after the race.

Joe Little, representing the Bud team on behalf of his father Bernie - who was home in Lakeland, Fla., because of illness - saw the tapes afterward and had no complaints.

"They were close and when you get close, things happen," said Little. "I saw the bottom of Dave's boat and that scared me. Dave did a great job of keeping it upright. They were jostling for position."

Brown, however, was incredulous after the race when he learned of the protest.

"I held it through the corner tight. I left him a lane," Brown said. "I had the advantage to do that. That's just boat racing. He should get over it. He lost. I would hope Dave would be competitive. But he got up on his side."

Hydro-Prop officials agreed with Brown.

The Brown-Villwock battle completed some of the best deck-to-deck racing hydroplane fans haven't seen in years.

An added surprise in the final came when Ken Muscatel, racing his U-25 Silver Dollar Casino boat for a possible third-place finish, got airborne on the backstretch as Brown crossed the finish line.

Muscatel's boat landed nose first and finished upside down in the water, breaking the boat into two large pieces and immediately red-flagging the entire race.

Muscatel was shaken up, but otherwise seemed unhurt.

"It hurts in the pocketbook," he lamented.

Another boat was docked earlier in the day when the U-10 Miss EMCOR and driver Mike Weber got up into roostertail water in Heat 3B, lifted up into the air and landed hard, right-side up.

"I'm a little sore and I have a heck of a headache, but I'm OK," said Weber an hour after his accident. "I feel worse about the boat than my headache, but I keep thinking it could have been a lot worse."

Mark Tate and the U-2 Miss Trendwest finished second, Steve David and the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto placed third, Mike Hanson and the U-9 Jack-son's Sports Bar was fourth, Jimmy King and the U-8 Llumar Window Film took fifth, and Villwock in the Bud was sixth.

Despite the 150 points E-Lam and Brown picked up, Villwock and Bud may be too far ahead in the national points title race. But Bud has a 57-point lead over second-place U-9 and is 69 points ahead of E-Lam with just two races left.

"The points chase is over the way the rules are," Brown said. "That's just the way it is."

And that would be fine with Joe Little.

"We've had our goals of winning the first race of the season (in Evansville), the Gold Cup (in Detroit) and the national championship," Little said.

The Bud team achieved the first two and is well on its way to getting the last one done.