Editor’s note: There are 47 days until the APBA HAPO Gold Cup Heat 1A race takes place on the Columbia River. At the same time, the Tri-City Water Follies’ annual event is celebrating its 50th year of racing unlimited hydroplanes. So the Herald will take a daily look at past storylines leading up to the Gold Cup. These are in no particular order:
July 27, 2008: Steve David wins for the first time on the Columbia River
Steve David was a boat owner’s dream.
The long-time unlimited hydroplane driver always had a smile, love to hang with fans, and always had a snappy quote for the media.
But for 18 years, David could never find success on the Columbia River.
And one of his lowest moments in racing also came on the Columbia.
“It was 1999 and we had struggled and finished sixth,” David said in an interview in 2008. “I came out of the boat going ‘We’re No. 6.’ ”
Anyone who knows David knows that’s just his outgoing personality, that he drives the boat as hard, if not harder, than everyone else.
The sponsor for the U-2 T-Plus boat David was driving for felt the driver wasn’t trying hard because of that statement.
So the sponsor wanted David fired that day.
“The boat’s owner, Jim Harvey, was torn,” David said. “He said ‘It’s either the sponsor or you.’ I told him he needed to keep the sponsor. Jim cried.”
Finally, in 2008, in his 19th race on the Columbia, David found success in the Columbia Cup final.
The 2008 season was a strange one in that Dave Villwock and the U-1 Ellstrom Elam Plus — the defending national high-points champions the previous season — had yet to run a race in 2008 until the team came to the Tri-Cities.
The defending national champions sat out the first three races of the 2008 season — the Indiana towns of Evansville and Madison, and the Detroit Gold Cup — in order to investigate the potential of new race sites in both Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, David and the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto took advantage of the U-1’s absence and were leading the American Boat Racing Association standings with consistency — but no victories yet.
The seven-boat final looked to be a shootout, with any one of six boats having a legitimate shot at winning.
Attrition, however, began to take its toll.
It started when the U-3 Hoss Mortgage Investors Too — which had collected a win and two second-place finishes in the preliminary heats — pulled out of the final, thanks to a burned piston suffered in the last preliminary heat.
Team owner Ed Cooper said the piston contaminated the engine, and the job to clean everything up would have taken several hours instead of the one hour the team had.
The next contender to fall was Villwock in the U-1.
He was knocked out early, even before the race started as officials penalized him a lap for encroachment.
It happened in the score-up area just before the start. With the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing’s Jean Theoret, David and the U-10 Hoss Mortgage Investors’ David Bryant on the inside, Villwock said they all swung out wide on the turn.
“I held my lane, they swung out wide, and I get penalized,” Villwock said. “Of course, I guess I should have swung out wide.”
Bryant was the next to fall, as he was penalized a lap for jumping the gun at the start. It was close, and many thought he had nailed the perfect start.
“How far was I over? An inch or a mile, it doesn’t matter, does it?” asked Bryant. “They said something to me over the radio, but I didn’t listen. I just kept racing.”
So most of the fans on the river thought that Bryant and David were chasing Theoret around the course.
And at one point, David looked like he was out of it. After sticking with Theoret through the first lap, David lost speed at the beginning of the second lap.
“I got a little airborne,” he said, as Theoret increased his lead from one to four boat lengths. “At that point, I still had a chance to catch him. But I also wanted to protect my points lead.”
He stuck to his guns and pushed the accelerator down. However, he could not gain much on Theoret.
The race was Theoret’s to lose ... and that’s what happened.
As he closed in to finish the fourth lap, he quickly shut the boat down and drifted out to lane 4.
“The boat was vibrating so bad,” he said. “I knew what had happened. We threw a propeller blade. If you don’t stop, and you keep going, it tears the boat apart. It was our race. We had just 11/4 laps left.”
That left David in the lead, and the veteran crossed the finish line for the victory.
David stood on the top of the boat and pumped his fists. Then he turned around, bowed his head onto the boat and said a prayer as a confetti cannon went off over his head.
The best thing for David and the Oberto team was extending their national high-points lead to over 600 points.
“You know, I thought Jean would have won that race,” David said. “But we were all so close in qualifying. No one has ever qualified this many boats so close at such high speeds. So when you have to start stretching stuff, you break stuff.”
And you win national titles with consistency.
In fact, David and Oberto went on to win the national title that year, and the Columbia Cup was the only victory they had during the season.