Villwock eyes another Seafair win

Many in the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing hoped parity would return to the sport when the red Budweiser boat took its final laps almost three years ago.

And while racers and owners in the sport contend the competition is as strong as ever, it still is one boat — the orange U-16 Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus — that dominates the sport.

The parallel is South Kitsap High School graduate Dave Villwock has dominated the sport with both boats and heads into 4:35 p.m. Seafair Chevrolet Cup final Sunday undefeated through four races. With only one more race — the Sept. 16 San Diego Thunderboat Regatta — remaining after Seafair, Villwock is attempting to sweep the six-race season.

“It would be an extraordinary accomplishment, but there’s going to be a lot of boats gunning for him,” veteran driver Ken Muscatel said.

Villwock, who earned the last of his eight victories at Seafair in 2004 as the Budweiser driver, had a quick retort for his challengers at Tuesday’s Seafair luncheon in Seattle.

“We know a lot of guys will be throwing fastballs at us ... but you’ve got to remember we’ll be hitting a few back,” said Villwock, who now lives in Auburn.

He said he believes some of his success this season is the result of failed risks his opponents have taken.

“I think the thing that’s helped us is we’ve tried to play smart,” said Villwock, who has 55 career wins to rank third behind Bill Muncey (62) and Chip Hanauer (61). “We’ve tried to use our intelligence, we’ve tried to press the envelop as far as how fast we can really push the equipment and sometimes that’s been faster than the other guys can go.”

Villwock is hesitant to discuss his pursuit of the record — “I might never win another race” — but said he saved his best equipment in his pursuit to unseat Miss Beacon Plumbing driver Jean Theoret, who has won the last two years at Seafair.

“I don’t know if I ever psychologically got ready for a race more than we will be this year,” said Villwock, who won a record 10 consecutive races in 1999-00. “That may make me a hero or a zero, I’m not sure.”

The change comes after Villwock said he suffered equipment problems last year at Seafair.

“We weren’t healthy,” he said. “Our engines had some fuel-control problems for the last couple of years ... it’s going to be a different year.”

Despite his recent success, Villwock said it won’t be as easy as his time in the Budweiser, when he won six of seven Seafair races from 1998-2004. He said partly is because three former Budweiser hulls now compete under different teams.

“It’s far more competitive,” said Villwock, who earned his first Seafair win in 1994 as driver of the Pico American Dream. “There’s way faster boats. The boats I won 10 races in are in the next pit area, not in mine. There are at least four boats that I’ve won races in, so I know the boats are capable.”

Longtime rival Nate Brown, who will compete in a new boat in the final race of his career, would relish the opportunity to unseat Villwock.

“I love rubbing elbows with him,” he said. “That’s the whole idea. That’s what I want to do. If I get my boat working, he’s not going to win.”

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