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New Seafair rivalries emerge for SK grad Villwock
SEATTLE — The tenor has changed during the last decade.
What used to be a fierce rivalry has evolved into a partnership of sorts between the 1972 South Kitsap graduate Dave Villwock and Nate Brown, who will pilot U-17 Miss Red Dot during this weekend’s Albert Lee Cup at Seafair.
While Brown has retired from the sport — he is filling in for injured nephew Kip Brown — Villwock, 58, has guided the U-1 Spirit of Qatar 96 to 4,600 Air National Guard Series High Points this year. He and U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David together have won the last four Seafair races. They are among the most experienced drivers on the Unlimited Hydroplane circuit.
And neither has expressed any desire to step aside.
“As long as I’m physically able and still fast,” Villwock said during Tuesday’s media session at The Museum of Flight. “Old guys like Steve David and I are going to have our hands pried from around the trophy. It pisses the younger guys off, I’m sure.”
Those competitors once were his peers. Villwock, who has a record 67 wins, dominated the circuit for years while he piloted the red Miss Budweiser boat for owner Bernie Little, who was known to spend lavishly to obtain the best equipment in pursuit of a championship.
Villwock, whom longtime driver Ken Muscatel once said had a “Darth Vader persona,” became a frequent target for criticism — even when he did not win. The 2003 Columbia Cup in Pasco, which was won by Mark Evans, was an example.
“The red boat guy [Villwock] would square you off — he would do anything to gain an advantage,” Brown said following that race, where he finished second. “Budweiser is whining about contact. I may be half his size, but I’m not going to take it. I try and race like a gentleman and he won’t allow it.”
Villwock, who finished fourth that day, had a different perspective.
“Elam bumped into me before the start,” he said. “I got run into Elam again later on the left side.”
The verbal jousting continued into the media session the following week in Seattle. Neither veteran driver was pleased with their performance last week at the Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities, which left open the possibility of a similar script Tuesday, but Brown and Villwock did not utilize it. Or it was at least toned down.
“It’s going to be a rivalry again,” Brown said. “I’m looking forward to kicking his [explicit].”
Neither party had a problem with the other’s driving in the Tri-Cities. Brown, who did not qualify for the final heat, said he lacked his normal focus, which he attributed to his hiatus from racing. Villwock said he was satisfied with his third-place finish considering the mechanical problems he had. He said his gearbox was a problem throughout the weekend and it eventually resulted in engine issues about halfway through the final race.
Villwock’s biggest frustration was the result hurt him in the National High Points competition. David now trails him by 1,990 points.
“Had the gearbox not blown up, we would be in a commanding lead right now,” he said.
Villwock believes those issues will be remedied in Seattle. The U-1 now features owner Erick Ellstrom’s “best engine” and his team likely will add a scoop to help prevent water from entering the hull and damaging the gearbox.
That sets him up for today’s qualifying trial, where Villwock traditionally has been strong. He has posted the fastest qualifying time in all three races this season. But given the traditionally rough conditions on Lake Washington, Villwock said he will treat the qualifying trial with caution — a word he seldom uses. That is for good reason, though.
“We’ll see what the conditions are,” Villwock said. “You want to be fast, but you have to balance that with the weather conditions.
“Sometimes you have to give up the battle to win the war.”