Sports

Battle-tested hydro racer still on top

After placing first last Sunday in the Tri-Cities, U-96 Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock aims for his 11th win on Lake Washington this weekend at the Albert Lee Cup at Seafair. - File photo
After placing first last Sunday in the Tri-Cities, U-96 Spirit of Qatar driver Dave Villwock aims for his 11th win on Lake Washington this weekend at the Albert Lee Cup at Seafair.
— image credit: File photo

SEATTLE — A conservation with Unlimited Hydroplane racer Dave Villwock is about as diverse as a buffet.

He frequently uses metaphors to compare his craft with the accomplishments of others. On Tuesday, the 1972 South Kitsap High School graduate and Auburn resident harkened back to his reading on Sun Tzu warfare when discussing the errors that some of his younger competitors make.

“One thing you never do — at least in a military setting — is take a hill you can’t hold,” Villwock said. “A guy runs to the inside and doesn’t have the boat speed to defend it. He usually gets a worse result than he would have if he picked a place he could defend.

“A lot of it’s strategy to be played.”

Faulty planning has not been an issue for Villwock, 57, who enters Sunday’s Albert Lee Cup at Seafair as the circuit’s winningest driver. He earned that distinction July 10 with his 63rd career victory to pass Bill Muncey, who was killed at 52 in a blowover crash during the Thunder on the Ohio race in 1981.

Discussion surrounding Villwock’s pursuit of the record has been prevalent for a decade, dating back to when he drove the Miss Budweiser. It is a topic he will be happy to no longer discuss.

“When the media surrounding the race was always (discussing) the record and what I was doing, that probably was not the best thing for the sport,” Villwock said. “Now we can focus on the sport again.”

Villwock, who has driven for his U-96 Spirit of Qatar team since crew chief Erick Ellstrom fired driver J.W. Myers after his boat crashed during the 2005 Gold Cup, has not won the National High Points title since 2007. But he enters Seafair first in those standings with 4,300 points with two races remaining in San Diego and Doha, Qatar. U-5 driver Jeff Bernard enters the race in second place with 3,568 points.

Despite that, Villwock said he is not too concerned with the National High Points standings. He attributed his inability to win it in recent years to poor luck, noting some crashes that he said were caused by others and officiating decisions that went against him. Villwock said U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David, who has won that title the last three seasons, has suffered a similar fate this year.

“No matter what we did, something always seemed to be stacked against us,” Villwock said.

He has not been quite as successful under Ellstrom as he was for the late Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little. After his boat blew over and landed on its back in the first turn of the final in 1997 in the Tri-Cities — an accident that nearly killed him and resulted in the loss of his right pinky and ring fingers — he became the sport’s most dominant racer. He won the national championship every year from 1998 to 2004, placing first at Seafair six times. Bud also won 22 of 28 races at one point with Villwock.

While Villwock’s knowledge of hydroplanes, which he has worked on since he rode the foot ferry to Bremerton to help his uncle, Al Villwock, with his 136 hydroplane as a youth, never has been questioned by rivals, some competitors have dismissed his success as a byproduct of having superior resources than his competition.

Ken Muscatel, who drives the U-25 Superior Racing and has competed on the Unlimited Hydroplane circuit since 1991, disagrees with that sentiment.

“Dave is winning because Dave is great,” he said. “He’s a great driver and he deserves everything he’s got. I’m very proud of him.”

But Muscatel said Villwock will have to be better in Seattle than on Sunday in the Tri-Cities, where he trailed for half the race before passing David to win the Columbia Cup.

“He’s got a super speedway boat,” he said. “This is a smaller track and he can’t afford to let what happened in the Tri-Cities happen here. Otherwise he’ll lose the race.”

Villwock begs to differ.

“We’ll still be able to make up time,” he said. “We really worked on the boat ride, so we were able to get it through rough water. Everybody has the same stuff, so it’s a question of how you can adjust it and how quickly you can adjust it.”

In addition to a $25,000 purse for the winner — the first time a reward has been offered since 1999 — according to Muscatel, boats no longer are assigned lanes based on qualifying times. They now fight for the inside lane and start trolling at 5 mph before the race parked in their lane.

“It’s not going to be predetermined by who’s got the fastest boat,” Muscatel said. “It’s fight, fight, fight all the way. I know the drivers like it.”

Except Villwock.

“I’m not a big fan of the start,” he said. “If we were going to run Daytona with 42 cars, we would put a clock up and tell them, ‘Just go get your lane.’ You never, ever would get a decent start there, so they learned a way to do it orderly.”

It is just another challenge for Villwock, who has no plans to retire. One that he routinely has defeated as he has joined Muncey and Chip Hanauer “as sort of the Mount Rushmore of this sport” after winning Seafair for a record 10th time in 2009.

 

Albert Lee Cup at Seafair

At Stan Sayres Pits on Lake Washington

Today

8:30 a.m. Gates open

8:30 a.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane testing session

9:50 a.m. Unlimited Hydroplane testing session

12:30 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane driver autograph session

1 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplane driver autograph session

1:35 p.m. U.S. Navy Blue Angels practice

2:35 p.m. Vintage hydroplane qualifying session

2:45 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplane qualifying session

5:25 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane

 

qualifying session

Saturday

8:30 a.m. Gates open

8:30 a.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane testing session

9:30 a.m. Unlimited Hydroplane testing session

11:05 a.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane Heat 1A

11:20 a.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane Heat 1B

11:30 a.m. Vintage hydroplanes

12:30 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplane driver autograph session

1 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane driver autograph session

1:35 p.m. U.S. Navy Blue Angels

2:50 p.m. Vintage hydroplanes

3:05 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 1A

3:25 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 1B

4:45 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane Heat 2A

5 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane Heat 2B

5:15 p.m. Vintage hydroplanes

Sunday

7:30 a.m. Gates open

8:30 a.m. Unlimited Hydroplane testing session

9:20 a.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane testing session

10 a.m. Opening ceremonies

10:25 a.m. Vintage hydroplanes

10:40 a.m. Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 2A

11 a.m. Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 2B

Noon Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 3A

12:20 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplanes Heat 3B

12:35 p.m. Vintage hydroplanes

3 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplane provisional heat

4:20 p.m. Unlimited Lights Hydroplane final

4:40 p.m. Unlimited Hydroplane final

5:15 p.m. Awards presentation

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