The H1 Unlimited fleet that is expected to be in the Tri-Cities this week for the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup is chock full of young and exciting up-and-coming drivers.
But take a look at the most recent points standings after two races, and you can see the top two spots are filled by the wily veterans Dave Villwock and Steve David — both of whom are 58.
No matter. Villwock has driven the U-1 Spirit of Qatar to two victories this season, and he and his team are atop the standings at 3,650 points.
David and the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto are right behind at 3,135 points.
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All the way down in third are Jimmy Shane and the U-5 Graham Trucking at 2,073.
Neither Villwock nor David expect to slow down anytime soon, as they battle for the national high points title again.
Villwock just won his 10th Gold Cup in Detroit, his fifth in a row for the Ellstrom Racing/Qatar team.
“I think it’s pretty good to get five Gold Cups,” said Villwock. “I’ve managed to win five here with Ellstrom/Qatar.”
What he’s really learned, with his experience, is that the run to the top of the point standings is a marathon, not a sprint.
“You just don’t get in a fight,” said Villwock. “We drew Oberto in Detroit, and we don’t care if we get first, second or third. You’re just trying to get points to get into the final.
“You have to play it smart, strategically,” he continued. “I see a number of guys who are not doing that. Guys are putting themselves in places they cannot defend.”
Meanwhile, David quashes talk that had he won the Gold Cup — the one big thing he hasn’t earned — he would have retired after this season.
“I think it’s like anything, once you win it you want another one,” said David. “I am having a ball. I am driving as hard as ever. It comes down to at what point you’re not feeling competent driving.”
And he’s got a great boat.
“It sure is,” he said. “It’s running better, handling terrific.”
A year ago, David and Villwock collided in the final at Madison. While David was declared the winner — race officials ruled that Villwock’s boat, which hooked inside, was disqualified — the Oberto was virtually destroyed.
That ruined David and Oberto’s chance to defend their national title.
Villwock and his team, meanwhile spent that week between Madison and Detroit putting their boat back together.
“This year, things are running along pretty good,” Villwock said. “I remember how thankful I was that I wasn’t grinding on carbon fiber between Madison and Detroit this year.”
So with both boats humming right along, expect them to be ahead of the class this week in the Tri-Cities on a super speedway that is the Columbia River.
“This course has 1,100-foot turns, big turns,” said Villwock.
That allows a driver to get some speed.
“In a course like Pasco, it is somewhat of an equalizer,” said David. “Here, you need some accelleration. You have 12 gears, you may use fifth gear in Seattle. Here it’s sixth gear. I think the way Dave and I are running, we may set some records in qualifying or during competition.”
Yet while these two are still dominating, they can see other drivers and teams moving up.
“The 9 boat (Jones Racing and driver Jon Zimmerman) did a great job in Detroit,” said Villwock. “Some ex-Bud guys are running the program for Mike Jones. There may be some other guys who can be fast. I would say the 88 (Degree Men and driver Scott Liddycoat) will be good.”
Liddycoat flipped the former Bud boat in Detroit.
“They dodged a bullet by not tearing it up,” Villwock said. “But I’ve hit the high 160s in that boat.”
For David, it’s also the 88 boat.
“And the 5 (Graham Trucking and Jimmy Shane) is right there,” David said. “And the 17 (Miss Red Dot and driver Kip Brown), we know they can be fast. I think the 11 (Peters & May and driver J.W. Myers) is almost there.”
The question is who, and when, will someone break out and compete with the old salts of the fleet?
Villwock’s 67 career victories may be untouchable. David’s 14 career wins are next among active drivers.
“I don’t know,” said Villwock. “There are a lot of young guys and it depends on what the series does. If the series comes up with 10 to 12 races a year, things could change.”
But at six races a year, it won’t happen.
Meanwhile, David and the Oberto team are trying to figure out how to catch and beat Villwock and the Qatar.
“If we outqualify him, that’s some points,” David said. “If we draw them in one or two heats, then we need to beat him. We basically need to draw him to move up.”