Editor’s note: There are two days until the APBA HAPO Gold Cup takes place on the Columbia River. At the same time, the Tri-City Water Follies is celebrating its 50th year of racing unlimited hydroplanes. So the Herald will take a look at past stories leading up to the Gold Cup. Here’s No. 48:
July 31, 2011: Villwock takes back the title.
For three straight seasons (2008-10), Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto team won the Columbia Cup and went on to win the H1 Unlimited national high-points championship.
But the Ellstrom team wanted the title back in 2011.
“We’ve come to take back what is ours,” said Erick Ellstrom, team manager of the family-owned boat that runs as the U-96 Spirit of Qatar, on Saturday.
So on Sunday his driver, Dave Villwock, went out and made it happen, winning two more preliminary heats and then passing David at the halfway point in the final to pick up his record 64th career victory as a driver.
“The team did a great job,” Villwock said. “We really set up that race back in the motorhome. We got together and knew we were going to put a really big gear in it.”
Villwock also knew he wanted to stay outside.
The seven-boat final heat was the only race of the weekend to have more than five boats on the water at the same time. So it was going to be messy.
“We were trying to stay out of trouble and find some clean water,” Villwock said.
The new starting procedure that season was a bit funky. Boats fought for lanes, but because they want the inside lane, drivers start trolling at 5 mph two minutes before the race, parked in their lane.
Drivers were trying to sneak into lanes ahead of others, and once Villwock almost got washed down.
“Graham Trucking (and driver Jeff Bernard) came over and blew my mirrors off,” Villwock said. “I couldn’t see anything in the mirror. Then he came by and did it again.”
Even David sliced through the field, forcing Villwock outside even further.
“Because of that I was a second behind at the start,” Villwock said.
But really, only David nailed the start, coming down the straightaway in lane 4.
Three of the younger guns — U-17 Miss Red Dot driver Kip Brown (lane 1), 88 Degree Men driver J. Michael Kelly (lane 2) and U-7 Valken.com driver Scott Liddycoat (lane 3) — hurried up the backstretch too fast before the start and had to slow down before the race began.
That allowed David — who’d had a rough weekend leading up to the final — to blast past the field.
“I thought if I can nail the start, get a seven-plus boat-length lead on the field, I can move over into lane 2, where the water was good,” David said.
It was his best move of the weekend.
On Saturday, a mental mistake cost him a heat victory. On Sunday, he was penalized for encroachment in his first race of the day, lost his second-place finish and the extra 173 points that went with it.
He scrambled to win his last preliminary heat, then had to wait to see if he could even qualify for the final.
“This is the only boat that can take on the 96 (Villwock) this weekend, and it’s a shame we can’t find out,” said David. “It’s clearly my fault. The blame is on me.”
But he did qualify — just barely earning enough points to become the sixth and final boat on the front line.
David got in and out of the first two turns ahead of the field. But Villwock, starting in lane 5, was closing in behind him.
“When it got down to four boat lengths I knew we had a problem,” said David. “The only chance I had to win was to move him around the course.”
But Villwock had too much speed, and he passed David midway through the third lap of the five-lap final.
David tried to stay with Villwock. But on the east-end turn of the course on lap 3, he slid the Oberto out too far and Villwock pulled away.
Villwock never let up.
“We ran (David) down with every bean we had,” said Ellstrom.
By the time Villwock pulled into the pits, his cowling had fallen off somewhere on the last lap, his wing had broken in two and his motor was smoking.
“We’ve kind of used the boat up,” he said with a laugh. “It looks like a top fuel car going through the lights on fire with parts throwing out of it.”