Editor’s note: There are six 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 26, 2009: David perfect on Sunday, takes points lead.
Steve David gave Art Oberto a victory at Seafair in 2007 for his 80th birthday present.
Scrambling to figure out what to buy the Beef Jerky king for his upcoming 82nd birthday, David settled for a victory at the Columbia Cup in 2009 in the Tri-Cities.
While he was at it, the 55-year-old driver of the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto gave himself a little present: the national high points lead.
A day after taking the lead over Dave Villwock — only to give it back an hour later when he was penalized 150 points for a lane infraction — David was perfect that Sunday, winning all three of his heats.
“People always ask me which one of my victories is special,” David said. “Well every one of them is so special. It took me 20 years of driving unlimiteds to get to this point, so I’m enjoying all nine of my wins.”
It was a weekend where almost everything went right for David and Oberto, while almost everything went wrong for Villwock and the U-16 Miss Elam Plus team.
Starting with the wiring problems in the boat that kept shorting things out Friday, to being penalized a lap in Heat 1A on Saturday, to losing all of its points in Heat 2B on Sunday to a fuel flow violation, the Elam team had plenty of problems on its hands.
“I cannot recall a weekend where we had more bugaboos,” said Elam team manager Erick Ellstrom. “Even when we flipped the boat a few years ago and came back to win, we had an easier time than we had today.”
Because of Elam’s problems, David and Oberto were easily the top team on the day.
The hardest part for David was waiting the two hours from the last preliminary heat to the final.
“It always is,” David said. “But this was mine to lose. I couldn’t screw up. I just wanted to get a good start, especially in that rough water.”
With seven boats in the final, the Columbia was a nasty river.
JW Myers, driving the U-37 Hoss Mortgage for injured driver Jean Theoret, hit the starting line dead on and was the first driver to the first turn.
David was careful not to jump the gun and was a few seconds behind. But by the time everyone had come out of the first turn, David had the Oberto in front and easily on his way to victory in the five-lap final.
Villwock, meanwhile, had the unfamiliar role of starting as the trailer boat. Elam hadn’t compiled enough points during the weekend to start on the front line in the final. American Boat Racing Association officials allowed Villwock as the trailer driver because the U-100 Jerry’s Tavern — the team in seventh place — had withdrawn earlier with a broken gearbox.
“It’s that refuse to lose thing,” Villwock said about why the team elected to run as the trailer boat. “It’s that national points thing, and we totally tanked it this weekend. We knew going in that if we took it off the trailer for the final we were gonna damage it.”
Going through all of that rough water caused the left sponson to break, as well as the wing — about $10,000 in damage, Villwock estimated.
“Any points we could get was worth it,” Ellstrom said. “But Steve David drove a wonderful race.”
That he did. David said he wasn’t worried about Villwock because he was too far back to catch him.
Jeff Bernard drove the U-5 Formulaboats.com to a second-place finish, while Myers finished third in the U-37.
Earlier in the day, J.Michael Kelly flipped the U-7 Graham Trucking in heat 2A while running down the straightaway on the Benton County side of the river.
Kelly came out of the boat quickly. He was shaken up, but otherwise unhurt. The same could not be said for the boat, which was withdrawn for the rest of the day.
Villwock entered the weekend with a 267-point lead over David in the series race.
But David headed for Seattle with 4,560 points, while Villwock had 3,941.
It was the turning point of the season, and David and Oberto — with just the one victory all season, happening in the Tri-Cities — went on to win a second consecutive national high-points championship.